When Shawn Clark returned to Appalachian State ahead of the 2016 football season, the newly hired offensive line coach was given three pieces of coaching gear: a T-shirt, a sweatshirt and a hat.
Those three pieces have been worn daily — and, thankfully, washed daily — during the last four years of App State practices. The hat is a bit crusty. The hoodie has turned from black to a sun-kissed brown. And the shirt has a hole under the arm you could pass a football through.
“It’s consistent,” Clark said. “My players know from me, it’s going to be the same everyday.”
Consistency runs through the Mountaineers program, especially as of late. App State has won at least nine games during the last five seasons. That includes four seasons of double-digit wins (in 2017, they went 9-3) and back-to-back years of 11 wins that was split by a coaching transition.
But this year’s team, which will play La.-Lafayette on Saturday in Boone for the Sun Belt Conference championship, is the first to win 11 games in the regular season as an FBS program. The only other year the Mountaineers registered that many wins before postseason play came in 1995. And Clark is connected to both.
Clark went to App State from 1994 to 1998. He was a sophomore starter at guard during the 1995 season, playing on an offensive line that featured three guys that would go on to become All-Americans either that year or during their careers: Clark (1996 and 1998), Chad Groover (1995 and 1996) and Scott Kadlub (1995 and 1996). Lance Ware, the senior assistant to first-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz, was also on the team as a long-snapper.
Every year is different, Clark said, but he said he can’t help but notice some similarities between the two teams, even though they are more than two decades apart.
“I think that you look at both teams right now,” Clark said. “We had really good players for the FCS level. I’m talking multiple guys on NFL rosters. We had great senior leadership that year, and that was truly a player-led team.
“The coaches didn’t have to get us ready to play. We were always ready to play each and every week, and very comparable to this year’s team. It’s a senior-driven team, a player-led team. I see a lot of comparisons in both teams. Great players and great leadership and the confidence that both teams had that knew that they weren’t going to lose no matter who they played.”
The 1995 team, quarterbacked by a senior named Scott Satterfield, eventually lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs to Stephen F. Austin. That season was the first season of double-digit victories for Jerry Moore, which featured the old Mountaineers’ offense inspired by his time at Nebraska with legendary coach Tom Osborne.
Clark recalled that season’s opening game against Wake Forest, which turned into a 24-22 Appalachian win. The Mountaineers got ahead early, the Deacons made a late charge, but App State left Winston-Salem with a victory.
That scenario was similar to Appalachian’s wins against North Carolina (34-31 on Sept. 21) and South Carolina (20-15 on Nov. 9), tying the two experiences together for him a bit more.
“I do think it goes back to our players and what this program was built upon," Clark said. "All the hard work they do in the offseason, you can always fall back when it comes to close games. This is what you do this for, this is why you do all the extra weights, this is why you run the extra miles, this is why you go to a study hall — to put yourself in position to put yourself on a national stage.”
Noah Hannon, App State’s center, is enamored with Clark's get-up, but mainly his old T-shirt. It reminds him of a shirt his father has. Noah’s dad, Chad, played at ECU. He occasionally wears this old, tattered shirt from his playing days. While Clark’s shirt isn’t nearly that old, it looks it to the junior who’s started since his true freshman year in 2017.
A person like Clark, Hannon said, is one of the many reasons he wanted to come to Boone in the first place. Hannon said he thinks it’s part of the reason why the crowd is so loud now, and why the Mountaineers have continued to add trophies to their displays in the athletics tower.
Having a coach that's been in his place, Hannon said, has helped instill his love for the program too.
"One of the things that Coach Clark and even D.J. (Smith, outside linebackers coach), guys like that who has been here, they built up a platform of success," Hannon said. ". . . When it comes down to it, there’s multiple things that made my decision App, but one of the things is the winning traditions and the fans and everything that comes along with it.
"It’s more fun to play with somewhere that has tradition than somewhere that’s just starting."