Running with a receiver in the middle of the practice field, Appalachian State linebacker John Law reached up and extended his arms to intercept the pass.
Law’s return to the opposite end zone included non-stop chatter with fellow defensive captain Kennan Gilchrist, who refused to deliver a block for his teammate.
“We always compete with each other and mess with each other, and I always tell him I’ve got better hands than him,” Law said. “He was hating on me.”
Law was in a jovial mood during a recent pre-bowl workout, and he looked much healthier after struggling to move his right arm late in the regular season.
A shoulder injury prevented Law from playing last year in a Raycom Media Camellia Bowl victory against Ohio, but the fifth-year senior is set to finish his college career Saturday by making his debut on the Cramton Bowl stadium field in Montgomery, Ala. Appalachian State (9-3) faces Toledo (9-3) at 5:30 p.m. EST.
“I am feeling amazing — 100-percent ready to go,” he said.
That’s a rare occurrence for Law, who has been a productive player and strong leader for the Mountaineers despite repeated issues with injuries.
He played in the first three games of his true freshman season, and he’s a member of the 2016 conference championship team only because he redshirted after rolling his ankle badly while stepping off the bus a day before Appalachian State’s fourth game in 2012.
Law made his 25th straight start in the 2015 regular-season finale, but he aggravated a shoulder injury in that early December win against South Alabama, and a two-week break before the Camellia Bowl wasn’t long enough to help him heal effectively. Instead, he sat out as D.J. Ward started at inside linebacker.
After totaling at least 71 tackles in three consecutive seasons, Law was named the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason defensive player of the year in July. He didn’t record a tackle in the nonconference game at Akron on Sept. 24, and a nagging abdominal injury caused Law to leave the field after one play at La.-Lafayette. He missed the next game, and a nine-tackle performance in a highly physical loss at Troy left Law playing with basically one arm over the final two weeks of the regular season.
If the next game after Troy had not been senior day at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Law might have rested that Saturday, but he willed his way to four tackles. A share of the Sun Belt title was at stake when Appalachian State played at New Mexico State on Nov. 26, and he managed three stops to bring his season total to 46, half of team leader and fellow inside linebacker Eric Boggs’ total.
“It’s a physical game, and the way I play the game, I go out and give my all,” Law said. “I’m going 100 percent every play, and injuries are going to happen. I know that and understand that.
“It was frustrating at times not being able to be out there, but my teammates did a great job of stepping up when I was hurt, so it made it a lot easier that we were winning those games.”
Law went from being preseason player of the year to not making any of the Sun Belt’s all-conference teams, but it’s been a rewarding season.
He helped the Mountaineers win an FBS conference title as a senior after being part of a Southern Conference championship at the FCS level as a true freshman, and Law had the honor of handing the game ball to coach Scott Satterfield following the Mountaineers’ victory at New Mexico State.
“My fifth year has been everything I could have ever imagined, anything I could have ever asked for,” Law said. “Real leaders and real guys who understood what it takes to win a conference championship, I got a chance to see that early in my career.
“Coming into this year, I wanted to make sure I was the best leader that I could possibly be and help the younger guys understand what it takes to win a conference championship. Coming into this year, I had one goal, and that was to be the best leader I could be. There have been times where things weren’t easy, times where we had to handle different situations, but I feel I’ve done a pretty good job.”
Thanks to a bye during the final Saturday of the regular season, the schedule has given Law three weeks to heal and prepare for the Camellia Bowl.
He’s happy to be healthy with one game left in his Appalachian State career.
“People asked me at the beginning of the season about the accolades and those types of things, and I told them all I cared about was winning,” Law said. “To be able to come out and win a conference championship, we’ve got one of our goals already, and I’m striding to finish it out the right way.”