Kidd Brewer Stadium seemed back to normal on Wednesday.
Appalachian State hit the field for a spring practice under a blue Boone sky. For about three months, the program went through a time period in which the focus wasn’t on actually playing the game.
The drills looked similar. The team personnel, which lost only 13 players to graduation from last year, did too. And the coaches, even with the new faces of Coach Eliah Drinkwitz and his six outside hires, seemed in their rightful places.
Football, finally, was the focus again. And Drinkwitz was happy about that.
“Yeah you try to get into a routine and get some normalcy, and for the whole staff, the transition and their families and everything, just being able to get into being on the grass,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s where you’re feeling most comfortable and you’re ready to go. So yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Appalachian is in its second week of spring practice, holding the first at the end of February before students were let off for spring break. The Drinkwitz era is still very young, but facets of it are already becoming discernible. The offense looks a bit different than the one Scott Satterfield ran for six years. There will be different motions, different setups and a flexible tempo with the hopes of controlling a game.
Another noticeable difference is the approach of the new 35-year-old head coach. Satterfield, a laid-back personality, stayed pretty calm as he scanned the field. Drinkwitz bounces around and gets in the middle of things. Practice started with him whooping before the first whistle blew. It ended with the team running the hill in the south end zone.
“I cant speak to what they’ve done here previously, or what the previous head coach was like,” Drinkwitz said of his energy. “I just know who I am, and I’m going to be who I am.”
After practice, Drinkwitz outlined three goals of spring practice: improve team technique and fundamentals; lay the foundation for the offense, defense and special teams; and identify team strengths and weaknesses. That’s a similar hope for coaches around the country.
But it’s emphasized a bit more on offense as the team learns Drinkwitz’s system.
Drinkwitz, also the team’s offensive coordinator, joked that for offensive players, it’s about learning small things day by day and letting it build. That is the only way the game plan can take hold.
“It’s like driving through a drive-thru window and the guys just throwing the fries at you,” Drinkwiz said. “And right now, we’re hoping they get one or two fries in the window.
“Other than that, we’ll figure it out this summer. I mean, it’s a whole new offense, new scheme, new terminology, so you’re having to pick little pieces.”
Drinkwitz, a former offensive coordinator at Arkansas State (co-OC in 2013), Boise State (2015) and N.C. State (2016-2018), said that every situation is different. He felt that the Wolfpack was comfortable in his system by the start of his second year, and maybe even by the last couple of games in 2016.
That doesn’t mean App State will follow that timeline, Drinkwitz said. But focus during these spring practices will help determine the track of the learning process.
“Every situation is different,” Drinkwitz said. “I mean, Year One of Arkansas State, we won the conference championship. Year One at Boise State, we won the Fiesta Bowl.
“... It just depends on how fast all of us as a staff, as players, as coaches, can retain it and figure it out.”
For now, the Mountaineers spend weekdays learning. Saturdays allow for weekly tests out of a scrimmage format. Appalachian’s new coach is enjoying all of those moments, both successes and failures, which are bringing lessons for him too.
“I think everyday there’s something new that I wasn’t exactly expecting to happen,” Drinkwitz said. “And so then you just have to deal with it and stick to your plan.
“... Every day has a challenge. A challenge to continue to be an elite program. A challenge to win the hearts and souls of your kids and your fans and your coaches. So everyday is a challenge. I think you’ve got to wake up early to face it.”