NEW ORLEANS — It was a good time for the Appalachian State football team to get away from Boone.
The Mountaineers (10-2) left behind the mounds of snow on their way out of town for the New Orleans Bowl, where App State will face Middle Tennessee State on Saturday at 9 p.m.
On top of that, the trip allowed Appalachian to avoid some of the chatter swirling around the program and simply focus on the team.
“That was definitely what we needed — just get away,” said junior cornerback Clifton Duck. “Like I said, just celebrate what we did all year with each other, and not focus on (the coaching change) or anything like that.
“Just for the players, this has been just a great year as a team.”
Some of that attention was unavoidable. App State announced Thursday that Eliah Drinkwitz would take over the Mountaineers program, replacing Scott Satterfield as head coach. It’s been nearly two weeks since the team won the Sun Belt Conference title against Louisiana on Dec. 1.
With intrigue regarding the coaching situation came added difficulty. That’s why, Duck said, New Orleans allowed the Mountaineers to insulate themselves again.
As he spoke Wednesday on the turf of the Superdome, he brought up the reason why he’d enjoyed this season so much. Duck said this team had been the most socially outgoing he’d been a part of since starting his college career. And that is highlighted by guys who have broken out and flashed surprising personalities. Fellow defensive back Austin Exford was Duck’s prime example.
Exford, a senior safety, was more quiet and reserved when Duck arrived at App State in 2016, Duck said. Exford battled injuries early in his App State career, which might have attributed to being more quiet, Duck said. This year, however, Exford become a central personality on the defense.
“When I go back to when I did meet him my freshman year, I’d never thought he’d been like this,” Duck said. “He’s just social, hanging out, having a good time, singing, dancing; it’s just been an all-around more outgoing team, just socially.”
The team has gone out a few times since getting to New Orleans on Tuesday. It went to an arcade that night, followed by a New Orleans Pelicans game on Wednesday. Coach Alvin Gentry of the Pelicans, an App State graduate, spoke with players before Thursday afternoon’s practice.
The team was aware of the new coaching hire, Darrynton Evans said, but he mentioned that they’re not focusing on that right away.
“I haven’t even really been looking at it,” Evans said. “I haven’t even been on social media. Really just trying to make sure everyone else keeps their head on straight and go from there.”
One thing most players could leave behind in Boone, though, was exams. Thursday was the final exam day for App State students. In the three previous bowls, the games happened late enough in the year to avoid this dreaded stretch.
Evans said he had to do three or four projects early before the trip. He also was forced to take three exams Monday.
MyQuon Stout, a senior nose tackle, was an outlier. A strenuous schedule due to student teaching set him up to finish his work early, leaving him without the worry of exams and free to enjoy the bowl week experience.
“I came out here, and I get to enjoy myself,” Stout said. “Unlike all these other guys — Okon Godwin and Jalin Moore had a quiz, an exam, today.
“So I’m just like, ‘Well, I’m going to just watch my show.’ It’s been nice. I haven’t had any exams.”