Drinkwitz aims even higher at App State

The Mountaineers’ new coach is embracing the school’s past successes but wants to go even further

Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas returns under center for the Mountaineers, who have a new coach in former NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. (Gerald Herbert / AP Photo)

The Appalachian State football team has a new coaching staff. The expectations remain the same.

Loaded with a roster of players that helped Scott Satterfield win three straight Sun Belt Conference championships, the Mountaineers have once again been picked to finish first in their division and win the league crown under new leader Eliah Drinkwitz.

But according to the former NC State offensive coordinator, the goal for his first season as a college head coach isn’t just to uphold a tradition that’s already been set.

“As good as we’ve been in the past, there are still things out there we can accomplish that will set ourselves apart,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s our aim, to try to do things better than they’ve been done before.

“Yes, they’ve been good. Yes, they’ve had success. Yes, we embrace that. But there’s more to do, and if we’re satisfied with that, it’s not what we’re about.”

A big reason for Drinkwitz’s optimism is the depth of talent his predecessor Satterfield left behind when he decided to take the job at Louisville after going 7-1 in the Sun Belt and 10-2 overall a year ago.

Twenty starters return, including all the top weapons from an offense that averaged 37.3 points per game.

It’s an attack led by quarterback Zac Thomas, the reigning conference Offensive Player of the Year who passed for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 10 others in his first season as a starter. Running back Darrynton Evans is also back after rushing 1,187 yards as a replacement for injured star Jalin Moore as are the team’s top two receivers — Corey Sutton and Thomas Hennigan.

Even with all that familiarity, there are bound to be at least some changes with any change in leadership.

Among the most noticeable changes instituted by Drinkwitz and his new staff has Thomas taking snaps from under center, something that wasn’t done in Satterfield’s offense. The junior quarterback might also spend more time in the pocket looking downfield than he has in the past.

“Last year we were kind of a run-heavy team,” said Thomas, who was the Mountaineers’ third-leading rusher in 2018 with 504 yards. “I think this year we’re going to be more of a throwing offense. It’s a big part of the offense if you can air it out.”

There will also be some tweaks on defense under well-traveled new coordinator Ted Roof despite the return of seven starters from a unit that led the Sun Belt by allowing only 15.5 points and 288.7 yards per game.

“Schematically, I feel like we can do a lot of different things,” said senior free safety Josh Thomas, who tied for the team lead with four interceptions last season. “We’ve got a lot of fronts, a lot of coverages we can throw at people to give them a curveball they’ve never seen before.

“Being in this scheme is fun because we can always bring something out that we’ve never shown before. It allows us to play fast and have a lot of fun out there.”

While Drinkwitz has made some changes to suit his own style, as most new coaches do when they come into a new situation, he’s quick to emphasize that they’re subtle. If the system isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed.

“There will be some cosmetic changes,” he said. “But you’re going to see some things that look the exact same.”

Among the things Drinkwitz and his players hope stays the same is the double-digit number in the win column and another conference championship trophy at the end of the season. It’s a quest that begins on Aug. 31 with a home game against East Tennessee State.

“We’ve got a strong football team and a great staff,” Drinkwitz said. “The challenge for us now is to put it all together.”