#10Strong Fall Camp Series: Quarterbacks Preview (2018-08-11 14:03:27)

 "We lost a lot of good seniors who were leaders on our team, so we focused a lot in the offseason on leadership, and we knew we had guys here with leadership qualities. You just have to develop them and get them leading."
              — Zeb Speir, App State Senior, Quarterbacks

BOONE - Moving forward from a 9-4 season in which Appalachian State claimed a second straight Sun Belt Conference title and a third consecutive bowl victory, the Mountaineers have adopted the #10Strong motto for 2018.

In the spring, head coach Scott Satterfield and assistant athletics director of athletic performance Mike Sirignano formed a leadership panel that included one player from each of the 10 assigned position groups and had weekly discussions about the contents of a Jon Gordon book called "The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy."
Today's position preview in the #10Strong Series leading up to the Sept. 1 opener at Penn State focuses on the quarterbacks, with senior Zeb Speir serving as that group's representative on the panel.
The departure of 2017 senior Taylor Lamb, a record-setting quarterback who started the final 49 games of his career, gives the Mountaineers a new look behind center. The last non-Lamb start occurred on Sept. 6, 2014, and sophomore Zac Thomas emerged from spring practices as the first-team quarterback.
Jacob Huesman, another sophomore, and redshirt freshman Peyton Derrick have also returned, while true freshman Stephon Brown and UCLA transfer Jackson Gibbs are newcomers to the 2018 roster. That position group also includes Speir, who took snaps in last year's Savannah State game, and redshirt freshman Tanner Wilson, who enhances his résumé by being a Heisman-level performer in the quarterbacks' preseason mustache-growing exhibition.
It's a close, fun-loving group with members who understand the serious value of strong leadership. 
"It's about stepping out and holding guys accountable, pushing guys," Speir said. "You're all best friends, buddies, and sometimes it can be uncomfortable telling somebody, 'Hey, we have to get going.' Holding each other accountable is the best part of that. It builds respect with you and with the group."

Thomas and Huesman were understudies to Lamb for two seasons, as they both redshirted in 2016 and appeared in games for the first time last year. Thomas rushed eight times for 45 yards and attempted passes in two of his four appearances, going 3-for-5 against both Georgia and Savannah State.

Quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce has noted the arm strength and speed that are assets for Thomas. He is working to increase his experience and confidence as fall camp progresses.
"The role for me has changed a lot," Thomas said. "Being a backup, there was not as much worry — you may get a couple snaps here and there, but you go to practice and practice hard. Now, there's a lot of stuff put on me to be a team leader. You're watching more film, learning defenses inside and out, getting that extra work with receivers to get the timing down."
Thomas acknowledged the importance of leadership at a position with such high visibility. He'll be working with plenty of talented and experienced teammates, from an offensive line that includes three returning starters, a backfield with two-time Sun Belt rushing champion Jalin Moore and a deep receiving corps. Along the way, Thomas is also being pushed to perform at a high level by Huesman, Derrick, Brown, Gibbs, Speirand Wilson.
"Everybody is competing," Ponce said. "We have some new guys in the group that are very talented. We're excited about them, and that's why they're here. It's going to take a while, and fall camp is definitely the time to fix everything and get Zac ready to get the ball to our playmakers."

Thomas followed a long run through the middle of the field during Thursday's practice with a touchdown pass to tight end Collin Reed. Multi-position threat Darrynton Evans had a touchdown run of 50-plus yards among his two big gains, A'Darius Purifoy made an impressive sliding catch near the sideline and Chandler Greer continued to make his presence felt on the offensive line.

Defensively, redshirt freshman cornerback Shaun Jolly made a nice play to come up with a sideline interception during one seven-on-seven drill, Clifton Duck prevented a touchdown with an end-zone breakup, Anthony Flory picked off a mishandled pass and freshman outside linebacker Nick Hampton made a tackle for a safety during one possession with the offense backed up.


Absher Awarded With Scholarship As Senior

BOONE, N.C. — Brad Absher earned possession of a championship belt. Now, as a senior, he has a scholarship to boot.

Appalachian State football coach Scott Satterfield announced following Tuesday's practice that Absher, a special teams standout and reserve receiver from Troy, N.C., is no longer a walk-on. He was mobbed by celebrating teammates after the news was revealed in the team's meeting room.

"It's rewarding to see hard work pay off," Absher said. "The best part of the whole night would have to be other guys' reactions. Seeing them that excited for me was incredible."

During the spring, Absher was the captain of an 11-player group that won an internal "Battle for the Belt" competition that awards points for achievements in the football team's strength and conditioning program, performance in the classroom, service to the community and all-around character.
The 5-foot-10 Absher recorded five special teams tackles — all on kickoff coverage — during the 2017 season. He had two key catches for 17 yards in a 45-38 win at Akron two years ago, coming up big for the short-handed Mountaineers by gaining 12 yards on his first career reception and making a juggling grab for 5 yards in a third-and-4 situation with Appalachian clinging to a 38-31 lead.

"He's a phenomenal human being," receivers coach Justin Watts said. "He's been raised by great people there, and he's a guy in our room that everybody really respects because of his work ethic. He comes to work every single day and gives everything he can. He knows there are guys that are a little more talented than he may be, but he takes it as a challenge to outwork everybody. The coaching staff really enjoys being around him, and we trust him."


#10Strong Series: Special Teams Preview

"Each meeting was based around how we thought things were going. It was a good time to reminisce with each other, share some stories, have a little bit of fun and show some camaraderie."
            — Elias McMurry, App State Senior, Special Teams

Moving forward from a 9-4 season in which Appalachian State claimed a second straight Sun Belt Conference title and a third consecutive bowl victory, the Mountaineers have adopted the #10Strong motto for 2018.
In the spring, head coach Scott Satterfield and assistant athletics director of athletic performance Mike Sirignano formed a leadership panel that included one player from each of the 10 assigned position groups and had weekly discussions about the contents of a Jon Gordon book called "The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy."
Today's position preview in the #10Strong Series leading up to the Sept. 1 opener at Penn State focuses on special teams, with senior Elias McMurryserving as that group's representative on the panel.
Entering his fourth year as a starter after being named the first-team long snapper on Phil Steele's All-Sun Belt teams in 2017, McMurry gained valuable insight that he can share with his younger teammates. Last season, the Mountaineers had a true freshman punter, redshirt freshman kicker, redshirt freshman holder and sophomore kickoff specialist. The primary punt returners were a true freshman and second-year sophomore.
"Last year, we had some inexperience," McMurry said. "Being able to relay things I've been able to see throughout my time here, hopefully it makes everybody a little more comfortable and allows people to settle in, to be a little more relaxed."
Chandler Staton (8-for-9 on field goals last year) and Michael Rubino (29 touchbacks on 81 kickoffs) are both back, as is 2017 punter Xavier Subotsch and redshirt freshman punter Clayton Howell. Subotsch and two quarterbacks (Zeb SpeirPeyton Derrick) are the leading candidates to hold on kicks following McMurry's snaps, while the coverage units return 2017 staples such as Brad Absher (five tackles on kickoff coverage last season), Kaiden Smith (Dollar General Bowl special teams MVP), Austin ExfordDevonte Harrison and Noel CookA.J. Howard's tireless participation on multiple units last year made him a more attractive prospect to NFL teams, which have 53-man rosters and need more of their defensive or offensive players to contribute on special teams.
The primary options in the return game are Darrynton Evans (redshirted in 2017 after ending 2016 with a kickoff return for a touchdown in the Camellia Bowl), Clifton DuckThomas HenniganJalen VirgilShaun JollyA.J. Beach and Dominique Heath.
"The fun thing is we've got guys who have done the jobs that we're asking them to do," special teams coach Stu Holt said. "We don't have a lot of holes where we're trying to find out if they can do it in a game."
Hitting a few high notes from Tuesday's practice:
* Junior safety Josh Thomas had a long interception return for a touchdown during one red-zone session.
* Another safety, senior Austin Exford, had several big hits during the same part of practice.
* True freshman running back Camerun Peoples, who is 6-foot-2, showed off his impressive size and speed on one long touchdown run. He also found a hole and reached the end zone during a red-zone situation.
D'Andre Hicks also scored a red-zone touchdown as a new option at running back following a redshirt year at cornerback, and graduate transfer Dominique Heath's quickness was apparent on several routes as a receiver.