Spurred by football, Appalachian State athletics on the rise

The Mountaineers’ move to FBS has been a success, and the rest of the school’s teams are following suit

Appalachian State football coach Scott Satterfield poses with the 2017 Dollar General Bowl trophy during a summer caravan stop in Raleigh (Brett Friedlander / North State Journal)

DURHAM — To many around the nation, Appalachian State is best known as the David that knocked off Goliath Michigan in 2007 in one of the most stunning upsets in college football history.

The reality is, however, that the Mountaineers are no longer one of the little guys.

They moved up to the FBS in 2015.

And while they still have a way to go before being considered the equal of such traditional powers as the Wolverines and Tennessee, which they took to overtime in their 2016 opener, they’re off to a strong start at football’s highest level.

That success was on display last week during a pair of statewide caravan stops in the Triangle.

Displayed proudly on a table in a prominent part of the room was the trophy coach Scott Satterfield’s team brought home from its history-making 34-0 victory against Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl last December.

It was the third straight postseason win for App State, making it the first former FCS team to win bowl games in each of its first three years of eligibility.

“We expected to do that, quite frankly,” Satterfield said. “We had a great run at the FCS level, and you make the jump to FBS, your intentions are to compete for conference championships, go to bowl games and win bowl games.

“As a football coach we have high expectations. You never really know if you’re going to make it, but you do everything you can to make it happen. We’ve had really good student-athletes, good coaching staff, good administration and some of the best fans in the country. All that goes hand in hand.”

Satterfield’s Mountaineers have been co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference in each of the two years they’ve been able to compete for the title.

An even greater measure of their success, however, is the caliber of nonconference competition they’ve been able to face.

Unlike many upstart FBS programs, which are forced to play Power 5 opponents on the road in so-called “guarantee games,” App State has already attracted the likes of Miami and Wake Forest to Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, with future home games against North Carolina, East Carolina and South Carolina already on the schedule.

Satterfield said that speaks both to the respect the Mountaineers have earned over the years, as well as the program’s commitment to future growth and improvement.

“We’re trying to beef our schedule up,” Satterfield said. “We want to compete at the highest level with these guys. You’ve got to be able to play those games to continue to elevate your program. It’s exciting for our fans, our students and our alumni to come back and see a big-time atmosphere game.”

It’s often been said that football is the front door to a school’s athletic department, since it is the program that generates the most income and — in most cases — exposure.

As such, App State athletic director Doug Gillin believes that the school’s gridiron success is having a positive effect on all of the Mountaineers’ programs.

“The future is bright,” Gillin said. “There’s a lot of momentum with our program. We’ve got a lot of facility upgrades. We’re put in new video boards last year in football, and we’re breaking ground this December on a new indoor facility. So there’s a lot of momentum around Appalachian athletics right now.”

The Mountaineers’ wrestling team has won three straight conference titles, their cross-country team is the defending Sun Belt champs, and both their men’s and women’s basketball teams made positive strides during the 2017-18 season under coaches Jim Fox and Angel Elderkin, respectively.

Fox’s men’s team was picked to finish 11th in the Sun Belt but ended up fifth with a 9-9 league record. Elderkin’s women’s squad is coming off its first conference tournament win, a game in which freshman Lapresha Stanley provided promise for the upcoming season by scoring 27 points against Arkansas State.

“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Gillin said. “But across the board, you can see where we’re headed.”

According to Fox, who served his coaching apprenticeship as an assistant to highly respected Davidson coach Bob McKillop, the goal is to create a winning culture similar to the one football established under former coach Jerry Moore and continued by Satterfield.

“Obviously, getting good players is the first step,” Fox said. “But it’s just doing the little things every day, and it’s constant. You have to be doing those things all the time. But it’s fun, and we’ve made great progress already.”