Jalen Virgil had his first breakout performance for Appalachian State two years ago. His blazing speed has made him a touchdown candidate in every game appearance.
Now, with a system that promises more passing plus extra opportunities, Virgil’s newfound confidence flashed with his performance on Saturday.
Virgil scored two touchdowns in a 56-41 App State win over Charlotte. The first came with 1:14 before halftime, a 10-yard grab in the back-left corner of the end zone with a defender tight on him. The second was a catch-and-run in the third quarter that went 73 yards and swept across the 49ers’ defense.
He finished with three receptions and 86 yards, beaming during a postgame interview about getting some chances.
“This offense we run this year, we have a lot more opportunities,” Virgil said. “Even in practice, we throw the ball a lot more than we did last year, so it’s just me getting comfortable with that.
“It’s pretty much just repetition, going over stuff every day and just getting comfortable with Zac throwing it to me.”
Two seasons ago, Virgil flashed the speed as a redshirt freshman that troubled opposing defenses. In a 2017 matchup with Coastal Carolina, Virgil had 186 receiving yards on five receptions and two scores.
That would be the last time he’d reach the end zone until the 2019 season opener against East Tennessee State (a 15-yard run). Virgil turned in a 20-reception campaign in 2017, chipping in 17 more during a sophomore year that collided with Corey Sutton’s debut season.
Virgil had four games where he failed to register a catch in 2018. He also played in five where he had one. But as he came out of spring camp, Virgil was feeling more confident in his receiving ability, as well as what his role could be. The chance to see the ball more often under Coach Eli Drinkwitz provided plenty of motivation.
“I kind of like it just knowing I have a couple shots a game,” Virgil said. “Just going in with the mentality that I want to take advantage of every opportunity, but there’s going to be more opportunities for me to take advantage of. Just having that mentality, it kind of helps me out a lot.”
On Saturday, Virgil got chances for a couple of reasons. For one, he was a legitimate speed problem for the Charlotte defensive backs, especially with star safety Ben DeLuca getting injured in the first quarter. Secondly, he had the faith of his quarterback.
Before his first touchdown, App State forced a strip sack to set it up. Drinkwitz said he initially called a run play with the Mountaineers 10 yards away from the goal line. Thomas made a case for Drinkwitz to look at Virgil. When Charlotte challenged its previous fumble, Drinkwitz listened.
“They called timeout and came over and I said let’s do it,” Drinkwitz said. “Zac gave him a great ball and he made the catch.”
Thomas picked Virgil again in the third quarter after the two noticed Virgil’s defender, which was typically Charlotte’s Marquill Osborne, lined up tight on Virgil often. He worked his way around him and sprinted toward the left pylon.
“Zac was looking out,” Virgil said with a smile while talking about his roommate.
Following postgame interviews, Virgil scooped up his meal and hopped in the elevator. His game against Coastal Carolina came up, and Virgil shook his head.
“That seems like so long ago,” Virgil grinned.
That’s been two years of growing and learning for Virgil as a receiver and football player. In 2019’s first two games, two App State junior receivers have already set career-high marks for receptions — Thomas Hennigan had seven against ETSU, and Malik Williams had six against the 49ers.
Drinkwitz is also showing that he has no fear to look Virgil’s way. The speedster hopes it stays that way.
“Well we got a lot of confidence in Jalen,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve had it all spring and fall camp. He just needed his moment and opportunity.”