CHARLOTTE — Seth Dawkins wanted to see change, and he needed to say something about it.
It was January, and the Louisville wide receiver watched his teammates slog through running drills. The Cardinals entered a 7 a.m. lift session with low energy. Their new strength and conditioning coach, Mike Sirignano, punished them for it. The Cardinals sprinted for roughly 45 minutes, Dawkins recalled, and everyone hated it.
Later that month, he’d seen enough hesitancy in the team's buy-in. He and P.J. Mbanasor, a Cardinals defensive back, called a team meeting. Dawkins laid into his teammates. He needed to see a commitment uptick in the program and Scott Satterfield, Louisville's new coach who had a strong six-year tenure at Appalachian State.
“They know something evidently that we don’t. I mean, you’d be an idiot, you’d be stubborn as hell, not to buy into it,” Dawkins said was the gist of the message. “That’s stupid. And you either are just very arrogant or whatever if you don’t buy into it.
“Stubborn, call it what you want. So everybody that was stubborn, they got out.”
The team huddled, broke it down and went about the day. But that is where, Dawkins said, everything really began to change.
As he sat Wednesday in the Westin Charlotte during ACC football media day, Dawkins pinpointed the source of his confidence in Satterfield’s vision. When the coach was hired on Dec. 4, Dawkins began researching Satterfield, as well as App State.
His findings? He read about the four straight seasons of at least nine wins, how the Mountaineers claimed three consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles and bowl wins under Satterfield. He stepped away from that impressed.
“Talent is talent,” Dawkins said. “They’re playing with the same talent that we’re playing against in the ACC. It’s equal talent.”
Satterfield inherited the mess left behind by Bobby Petrino. The Cardinals were 2-10 last season, and Satterfield has to oversee a rebuild of a program two years removed from having a Heisman Trophy winner on the roster in Lamar Jackson.
The coach, who helped usher App State through a near flawless transition from the FCS level to the FBS level, brought some of the big voices that surrounded him in the Mountaineers program: Sirignano, defensive line coach Mark Ivey, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, etc.
But when he arrived, Satterfield was surprised by some of the practices of his predecessor, which limited player-coach interaction. That needed to be fixed.
Satterfield has tried to make little changes in the hopes of impacting the players in big ways. He has the Cardinals over to his house, and he's invited them to enter the coaching offices whenever. He takes the team to a bowling alley or a paintball course to build relationship strength.
Satterfield laid out his plan for the Cardinals program as soon as he took the position. He also spread a message of care and love to his new players. All this now is about backing that up, doing it in similar ways the coaching staff did with the Mountaineers.
“It happens over time, and you have to be consistent,” Satterfield said. “... We’re doing all these things with them because we want to have these interactions and camaraderie, so when it’s crunch time in the game, they know we’ve got their back, and I think that’s how that relationship works.”
While he talked, Satterfield pointed to a red bracelet on his right hand. It said “Trust and Respect,” and everyone on the team wears one.
Dawkins and Etheridge both conveyed a feeling of excitement when they spoke about the future. The staff’s production at App State gives them plenty of reasons to have faith in the program’s current direction.
It’s why Dawkins will keep listening to these new voices — like the growl of Sirignano during those punishing sprints — until the team starts winning again.
“It means a lot just from just the standpoint that they have the recipe to win, man,” Dawkins said. “It’s been proven that App State — they know what they’re doing. We just have to buy in.”