BOONE — Shawn Clark nearly broke out his trademark practice gear – a sun-dried hoodie and a crusty ballcap – for his opening spring practice news conference today.
But he opted to go with a short-sleeved quarter-zip instead.
“I was going to wear it today," Clark said, “but I figured I better wear something a little cleaner.”
The on-field portion of the Clark era started a few hours later with the opening of spring practice, the first of 15 the Appalachian State football team will get under its first-year head coach.
Clark announced that eight players would not participate this spring but are expected to be fully healthy by the fall: Wide receiver Corey Sutton; running back Cam Peoples; defensive back linemen Chris Willis, Tommy Dawkins and Greg Johnston; wide receivers Michael Queen and Dysaun Razzak; and defensive back Tre Caldwell.
Sutton had seven receiving touchdowns in 2019 before tearing an ACL during the home finale against Texas State. Peoples appeared in the season opener against East Tennessee State. And Willis, who turned into a starter in 2018, didn’t appear because of a lower-leg injury.
On offense, App State welcomes back almost every starter. Missing from a group that averaged 38.8 points per game is starting left tackle Vic Johnson and tight end Collin Reed, as well as NFL early entrant Darrynton Evans. Evans was third in the nation for total touchdowns with 24.
The Mountaineers have a new offensive coordinator, Tony Petersen, who has coached at Marshall, Minnesota and East Carolina, among other places.
“Well we know our identity: We know that we’re going to be a dominant downhill run team and be able to stretch the field vertically,” Clark said. “And in this whole process of interviewing offensive coordinators, I knew what I wanted. We interviewed roughly four offensive coordinators, and I kept coming back to Tony.”
Defensively, App State has many starting roles to fill under coordinator Dale Jones. The Mountaineers will replace their starting nose tackle, three of four linebackers and both starting safeties. Appalachian saw the development of young players such as redshirt freshman linebackers Nick Hampton and true freshman safety Nick Ross. Ross had a pick-six interception against South Carolina.
But nothing is guaranteed for anyone on the defensive unit, Clark said.
“That’s what spring practice is for. We have a preliminary depth chart, well start today,” Clark said. “That chart is always moving day to day. It won’t be stagnant. We want competition, guys who want to compete. But it’s our job as coaches to put the best 11 players on the field. And for the next 15 practices, we’ll figure that out.
Clark’s last few months have been a whirlwind. He went from Mountaineers’ offensive line coach to interim head coach to head coach in the span of a couple days in December. He kept the incoming recruiting class intact while prepping for the New Orleans Bowl. And after the season, which the Mountaineers finished as a top-20 program with a 13-1 record, Clark had to fill out his staff.
Now, the fun can really begin for him.
“Spring football is my favorite time of the year because you’re not game-planning week to week for an opponent,” Clark said. “And you get a chance to really get around your players and get to know your guys.
“. . . I just know for me personally, that’s a chance to get back on the football field. It’s something I know that I’m good at, and with the head job, every day is a different experience.”