Last Updated on February 21, 2023 6:56 pm
BOONE, N.C. — A sideline filled with a mix of returners and newcomers, counting both defenders and defensive coaches, broke out into a familiar chorus after back-to-back takeaways.
“Jack Boyz! Jack Boyz!”
An eventful offseason marked by new arrivals to App State's football program gave way to official on-field work with Monday's start to spring practice on a rainy late afternoon in Kidd Brewer Stadium.
“I think it was good for our souls, both the coaches and players, to get out here and practice again,” fourth-year head coach Shawn Clark said. “A lot of good things are happening, starting from the weight room this offseason.”
Clark's staff includes different assistants at six positions, with Frank Ponce back at App State as the offensive coordinator and Scot Sloan having returned to Boone as the coordinator of a defense that has new coaches in charge of the line, inside linebackers, outside linebackers and safeties.
Matt Greenhalgh, who has returned to Boone as the Director of Athletic Performance for Football, already has been working enthusiastically and productively with a 98-man spring roster that includes 19 newcomers who are either college transfers or early enrollees as December signees.
Starting this week, that work is being applied to organized football activities that will run until late March.
“Matt's done a phenomenal job, and we're much further ahead than we've been in the past,” Clark said. “Our coaches are coaching their tails off, and that's what I was looking for. They're flying around, and coaches are demanding the greatest out of the players.”
Among the defensive highlights were interceptions on back-to-back plays from outside linebacker Brodrick Gooch, who broke on a ball near the sideline, and strong safety Nick Ross, who hauled in a deep throw.
Richmond transfer Tyrek Funderburk impressed defensive and offensive players alike with his positioning on a breakup from his cornerback spot, and Deshawn McKnight reached the backfield for a potential sack immediately after forcing a fumble from his spot on the interior line.
Sloan stressed the need to improve in some areas, such as scoop-and-score fundamentals, while putting the ball on the turf and giving it away through the air counted as areas to clean up for the offense.
The offensive line earned praise for its blocking, with less-experienced tackles such as Jayden Ramsey and Markell Samuel getting more reps following the departures of stalwarts like Cooper Hodges and Anderson Hardy. With returners Ryan Burger and Brady McBride being joined by newcomer Joey Aguilar in primarily handling the 11-on-11 reps at quarterback, they showed off their athleticism when they weren't handing the ball off to a deep stable of backs.
Navy transfer Maquel Haywood used his 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame to find a crease and break off an explosive run. Given some number changes, it will take time to adjust to seeing a white-jerseyed running back in No. 7 (Anderson Castle) coming together in the hole with a different black-jerseyed linebacker also in No. 7 (Andrew Parker, who has switched over to departed linebacker Trey Cobb's single digit).
“We threw a lot at them for Day 1, which is what we wanted to do to see how well they retained it,” Clark said. “Overall, I thought we had a good day. A lot of energy out here and the guys were just flying around.”