Control the controllables.
That was the message Shawn Clark, the first-year head coach for the Appalachian State football program, had for members of the media when asked how the coaches and himself have handled navigating the team this off-season.
The off-season was done primarily through Zoom, much like last Thursday’s media day.
“We’re very excited to get started. It’s been great to finally be around our players, there for awhile, it was pretty tough as a coach not to be involved in the lives of your players but everything seems normal now,” said Clark. “We’re very optimistic, very excited about the 2020 season.”
Clark’s message came less than 24 hours after the announcement that the Mountaineers’ matchup with Atlantic Coast Conference foe Wake Forest had been postponed.
The two schools, separated by 86 miles, have also agreed to reschedule that game and add two more games to the series — one in Boone and one in Winston-Salem — for a total of three future matchups.
Even if the original game was to be played, it more than likely would’ve been played with no fans in the stands due to North Carolina still in Phase Two of re-opening and limiting social gatherings to 25 people or less.
Phase Two is scheduled to go until at least Sept. 11, which was supposed to be original date of the game between the Mountaineers and Demon Deacons.
“We’re very disappointed; not just for our players but for our fans. It’s a game that’s between two teams 86 miles apart, two state schools, so it’s very disappointing,” said Clark. “Under our administration and (App. State Director of Athletics) Doug Gillin, they worked day in and day out, 24 hours a day, to make sure this game went on and he came to me and asked ‘should we play?’ and I told Doug ‘we’ll play in a full crowd, a half crowd, a quarter crowd, or no crowd,’ so that’s disappointing as far as that goes.”
The game was the third canceled nonconference game this fall. The Mountaineers were also scheduled to face Massachusetts on Sept. 26 in Boone and that game is in limbo following Tuesday’s announcement of the Minutemen postponing their season.
Appalachian State and the rest of the Sun Belt Conference schools are guaranteed to play eight league games and up to four nonconference opponents, should schools be able to agree on a date.
The Sun Belt Conference championship game, which will be played between the winners of the East and West divisions, is currently scheduled for Dec. 5 at the team with the better record. The Mountaineers have won the championship game the last two seasons — both of them over Louisiana-Lafayette in Boone.
“We have a great conference who’s done very well nationally. You look at the Lafayettes, the Troys, the Georgia Southerns of the world,” said Clark. “We have a great conference so if we don’t play until the end of September, first of October, we’re going to play eight very good opponents,” said Clark. “We have a saying here ‘control the controllables’ and right now, these things are controllable.
“I told the guys in our meeting last night, that whatever we get, we’re going to take it and go with it; I used an analogy that (former App. State Head Football Coach Jerry Moore) used to use and he said ‘we’re going to take these lemons and make lemonade out of it,’” added Clark. “So we’re going to play who we’re going to play. I have full faith in Doug and his staff to get us a schedule going.”
In addition to talks about the loss of the game with the Demon Deacons, another subject that dominated most of the media day conversation was player safety. Members of the Mountaineers began fall practice Friday morning.
And as practice has begun for college programs, App. State quarterback Zac Thomas knows that if teams want to play, or possibly be able to play, certain protocols must be followed.
Thomas, who was the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year two years ago, was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt in many early season magazines and on the watch list for the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien and Manning awards.
“I think it comes down to, bottom line, if you want to have a football season, you have to do what’s right, “ said Thomas. “If we want to play this year, we have to social distance and have to do everything they’re asking us to do to have a season. Our trainer, Zach Parker, I think he’s done a phenomenal job of just telling us what is right and what is wrong and putting rules up there to where if we want to have football this season we have to follow these rules and if not, then we’re not going to have a football season.”
Clark concurred Thomas’ sentiments and stated certain changes have been made, both on the field, and in meetings.
So far, Clark said that players have been exceptional of following protocols and “we’re going to be reporting all of their stuff through Watauga County Health Department and through the university.
“(Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being) Jon Mitchell, who’s in charge of our COVID committee, is in contact with us on a daily basis. I just know that you can only have so many people in a room, six feet apart; they tell me what to do and we’re going to enforce that and that’s something that I take out of my hands and put on our medical staff to make sure that we’re keeping our players as safe as possible,” said Clark. “Every day, they get a text that says ‘wear a mask, wash your hands, stay six feet apart’ and we’re doing that in our meeting rooms. We’re changing that so that we have more space, we take our offensive line from the meeting room to the indoor facility just to have more space. But we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we have a football season in 2020.”
If no other nonconference games are added, the Mountaineers’ first game is now scheduled for Oct. 7 against Louisiana in Boone. It’ll be the first of back-to-back Wednesday night games.