Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
BOONE, N.C. ó One of the fringe benefits of living in a Football Championship Subdivision town is that you have easy access to football practice on a given day.
For 14 years, my day-to-day football fix came from residing about 30 minutes from the Appalachian State University campus.
In the past four seasons, my proximity to the greater Philadelphia area has given the chance to be a big man on campus at such places as Villanova, Penn, Princeton, Delaware, Lehigh and Lafayette, all within about an hour of my driveway.
I even took advantage of the closeness of a beleaguered La Salle program to "explore" what college football was like at the Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference level.
Within a two-hour radius of my Pennsylvania home are even more FCS options, be they Delaware State, Monmouth, Wagner, Fordham, or Columbia.
This week, my port of call is back in Boone, as I split time between renovating my house in the Appalachian Mountains and keeping up with football.
There are also plenty of opportunities to talk about FCS when you live in one of these college towns. The past two weeks, I have made a half-dozen appearances on local television show, The Sports Page, on Mountain Television UHF Channel 24 here in Boone.
It's not exactly like the Weird Al Yankovic cult-classic movie "UHF," but it still is fun to spend a couple of hours every day, chit-chatting about sports with host Jeff Fancher.
Early this week, I explained the intricacies of the Gridiron Power Index (GPI). On Friday, I interviewed Wofford preseason All-American fullback Eric Breitenstein about the success of the Terriers this season and talked to Appalachian State radio voice David Jackson about Saturday's Southern Conference game between the Mountaineers and The Citadel.
Breitenstein, who as a star at local Watauga High School led his team to a state championship game as a running back and free safety, said he is back at 100% after last year's PCL tear finished his season early and noted that he wasn't surprised at the success of the Terriers during their 4-1 start.
Breitenstein also talked about his deep Mountaineers roots.
His grandfather Bob was a longtime ASU assistant and served as the Mountaineers' head coach in 1959, leading his team to a 6-4 record and a second-place finish with a 5-1 record in the North State Conference.
Back then, Appalachian State played teams like Emory & Henry, Lenoir-Rhyne, Catawba, Carson-Newman, Guilford and Tampa (yes, Tampa used to sponsor college football). There were also teams like Western Carolina, Elon, Presbyterian and East Carolina on the schedule.
The younger Breitenstein also told of his thrills in watching his older brother, Seth, earn three national championship rings with the Mountaineers and making the tackle on the opening kickoff of the title game against Northern Iowa.
The classy, young fullback also admitted he is excited to be returning to his Boone roots for a Nov. 13 game between Wofford and Appalachian State, a showdown that is likely to decide the Southern Conference championship.
Breitenstein still bristles at his last appearance as a player at Kidd Brewer Stadium. He enjoyed a breakout game in front of family and friends with 18 carries for 157 yards, but was disturbed by his team's 70-24 Hallowean-night loss on national television.
"We can win if we stick to playing our game," Breitenstein said. "Last time, we did all sorts of things, like trying to pass. We just need to play our game to be successful."
THE VOICE AND THE PREVIOUS VOICE
Jackson talked about the excitement he expects to see when ASU hosts one of its infrequent night games at Kidd Brewer Stadium, while giving his take on the always-hard-fought matchup between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs.
He also gave a state of the team report on the ASU squad he covers. The synopsis is that the Mountaineer offense is hitting on all cylinders, while the defense needs to improve its pass coverage.
There was also the opportunity to discuss the impact that new Towson athletic director Mike Waddell ó the voice of the Mountaineers before Jackson ó would have on the fortunes of the Tiger sports program. (For the record, I think Waddell and Towson are a perfect fit).
It is a day like Friday when you are reminded of everything you love about being involved in FCS.
The rest of my afternoon consisted of hanging out with one of my best friends in Boone, ASU equipment manager John Welch, as he waited for The Citadel to show up for its Friday walk-through at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Several Appalachian State players pass by and address Welch ó himself a former star center at Watauga High and Wingate University ó as the Governor. Welch, a candidate for the November school board election in Watauga County, lets out an easy chuckle to the nickname.
"At least they didn't call you the Governator," a friend pointed out.
"I'm glad that name is taken," said Welch, before rushing off to several campaign stops during the evening.
This practice also gave me the chance to catch up with a couple of my favorite people in FCS, former Bulldog athletic director Walt Nadzak and current Citadel and ex-Lehigh coach Kevin Higgins.
"I thought we had the best football facilities in the Southern Conference," said Nadzak, as he looked at the spify renovations around Kidd Brewer Stadium.
"Now I guess we're No. 2," the current color man on the Bulldog radio broadcast laughed.
When asked about the NCAA's move of the national championship game from Chattanooga, TN. to Frisco, TX., Nadzak wasn't in a humorous mood.
"I don't know what they were thinking," the former NCAA Division I football committee member said. "They ought to move it back to our place in Charleston."
Higgins viewed a spirited Citadel practice and then watched his short-clad team make a mad dash back to the locker room on a cold and blustery mountain day.
"We're a work in progress," said Higgins, when asked about his squad's conversion to a double-wing option attack. "We are doing what we have to do. We have some good young players, but we've been making too many mistakes and committing too many turnovers."
Higgins was much rosier in his breakdown of The Citadel's defense, which has held the Bulldogs in most games.
Whether Higgins will be as rosy in his demeanor on a cold Saturday evening remains to be seen.
A week earlier, I had spent some similar time with Elon coach Pete Lembo ó one of Higgins' many proteges in college coaching ó during the walk-through for his Phoenix squad.
I had wondered the same thing about Lembo, whether he would be happy at the outcome of a Saturday game at the Rock. The answer for Lembo had been a big no, when his Elon club lost to the Mountaineers to fall out of playoff contention.
On Thursday, I attended Appalachian State's practice, quickly retrieving a football for Mountaineer quarterback DeAndre Presley, who had suffered a slight concussion near the end of the Elon game.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, as I made a rather poor underhand toss of the ball back to this Walter Payton Award watch-list candidate.
"I am doing fine," said Presley, with a big smile on his face as he bounced back to the field, happy to know that he would start again on Saturday.
You could tell that Presley was enjoying nearly every moment of practice with his perpetual, almost Tigger-like outlook. And you could tell just how much of an impact this junior has made as a leader in his first year as a starter.
NAME THAT TUNE
Appalachian State may have one of the Meccas of FCS stadiums, but one thing it hasn't had in the past was a good sound system. That problem was taken care of this week with the installation of a state-of-the-art unit.
Workers were testing the new system out on Thursday afternoon with some rather interesting results. In the middle of practice, the mellow strains of James Taylor began pouring through the new speakers.
It wasn't exactly the type of music to get someone fired up to practice football.
Place kicker Jason Vitaris, punter Sam Martin, long snapper Wilson Fitchett and holder Dominick Magazu, sitting near the bleachers, shouted out ridiculous answers when someone asked who the artist singing was.
"Is it U2?" one facetiously guessed.
"I think it's Elvis," said another.
Finally, a bystander told them it was James Taylor, performing "Carolina On My Mind."
"Who is James Taylor?" one of the young players asked.
This odd scene was repeated when Emmy Lou Harris was heard a few minutes later. The same thing occurred when Billy Joel began to sing.
Finally, this quartet music critics heard someone they recognized.
"Now I know that one is Frank Sinatra," Fitchett said.
At last, someone was right.
On the sideline, coach Jerry Moore sought out associate athletic director and former Mountaineer kicker Jay Sutton with a request.
"Can we get some fiddle music on there on Saturday?" Moore asked.
"Sure, Coach Moore," Sutton replied. "Anything you want."
One thing is for sure. That fiddle music will sound better than ever on those new speakers.