BOONE — Excited exchanges of hugs and high-fives marked the 11 a.m. arrival of players to the Appalachian State football team’s meeting room Thursday morning.
Report Day for the start of fall camp coincided with an afternoon Media Day three floors up in the Mark E. Ricks Athletics Complex, giving head coach Eliah Drinkwitz and others the first game-month opportunity to discuss preparations for the 2019 season.
While the initial meeting of the day served as a quick reunion for many, it was the first time that the 2019 App State football team was all together in one spot.
“We’re excited to begin the process of training for everything that’s going to present itself this season,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve got a strong football team. We’ve got a great staff. The biggest challenge for us is to now put it all together.”
Appalachian hired Drinkwitz in mid-December, right before the Mountaineers concluded an 11-2 season with a 45-13 victory against Middle Tennessee in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. That fourth straight bowl win followed a Sun Belt Championship Game victory that gave App State a third consecutive conference title.
With 10 offensive starters and seven defensive starters from the 2018 team back, App State is the preseason favorite to secure another Sun Belt championship, but this is a new season with no accomplishments to date for a group of coaches and players who are working together as one unit for the first time.
After going through a month’s worth of preseason practices, the 2019 team will make its debut Aug. 31 at home against East Tennessee State.
“Being in this scheme is always fun because we can bring something out that we’ve never shown before,” senior safety Josh Thomas said. “It keeps people on their toes and allows us to play fast and have a lot of fun out there.”
On Thursday, Drinkwitz stressed that the ETSU matchup is App State’s most important game because it is App State’s next game. He met with media members for 30 minutes before players and several assistant coaches joined him on the fifth floor for roundtable discussions with reporters.
Position meetings to receive playbooks and camp schedules occurred at 2 p.m., and the weather on a rainy summer afternoon cooperated just in time to accommodate a team photo on the East side of Kidd Brewer Stadium.
“These young men have returning experience, and our coaching staff has a lot of returning experience, too,” Drinkwitz said. “The thing about a team is, when do they become us? When do they unite? When do they jell? When does that team form that team chemistry and bond that they can face adversity and overcome it? We’re asking them to do things that are different than what they’ve done before. When you play your best, you have to be comfortable with what you’re doing where it’s a reflex.”