College Sports

What was quarterback Zac Thomas’s first request to his new Appalachian State coach?

App State’s Zac Thomas on embracing change

The Mountaineers' award-winning quarterback returns to a loaded team, but a new coach in Eliah Drinkwitz. Thomas has taken it upon himself to make the relationship work.
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The Mountaineers' award-winning quarterback returns to a loaded team, but a new coach in Eliah Drinkwitz. Thomas has taken it upon himself to make the relationship work.

A coaching change can serve as astress test for a college football program.

So after Scott Satterfield left Appalachian State for Louisville when the 2018 regular season ended, Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas took it upon himself to help make the transition for new coach Eliah Drinkwitz go as smoothly as possible.

Thomas — the 2018 Sun Belt Conference offensive player of the year who had flourished under Satterfield — quickly texted Drinkwitz, asking for a copy of Appalachian’s new playbook

“(Thomas) embraced the change,” Drinkwitz said. “Any time you have somebody who has been successful and you get change, you might have somebody who will feel sorry for himself, to go, ‘Why?’ No, he embraced it.”

Thomas, a junior who will lead the Mountaineers into their season opener Aug. 31 against East Tennessee State at Kidd Brewer Stadium, is nothing if not realistic about the departure of Satterfield — himself a former Appalchian quarterback who successfully guided the program into the Sun Belt and the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.

“In (the coaching) profession, you’re going to have a lot of change,” said Thomas. “Coaches are going to take a better job offer to help their families. My main thing when coach Drink came in was to help build a relationship so that he could trust me and I could trust him.”

Thomas also understands that in Drinkwitz, the Mountaineers are getting a coach who understands the quarterback position. He was a successful QB coach and offensive coordinator at both Boise State andN.C. State before arriving in Boone.

Drinkwitz has tweaked the Mountaineers offense into a Pro Tempo system. It’s not much different from what Satterfield ran at Appalachian, although it will lessen the pressure on Thomas to run the ball as much as he did in 2018, when he rushed for 504 yards to with his 2,072 yards through the air..

“Last year I was more of a running quarterback,” Thomas said. “My focus this year is to stay in the pocket more. That helps the O line; when I’m scrambling I’m putting more pressure on them to hold their blocks more. I’ve got to trust my receivers and O linemen, and know that they’ll get it done.”

Drinkwitz wants to keep the changes as simple as possible for an offense that returns 10 starters from a team that went 11-2, won the Sun Belt title and the New Orleans Bowl.

“When we get into the nuts and bolts of what they called (plays) last year, we’ll just call it that,” he said. “It’s easier for me to learn what they did.

“There will be some cosmetic changes. Some things will be exactly the same. Whatever we can do to help us win football games is what we’re going to do.”

Thomas is the latest in a long line of excellent, successful quarterbacks at Appalachian -- from Steve Brown to Richie Williams to Armanti Edwards to Taylor Lamb.

Thomas says he stays in regular contact with Lamb, his predecessor, who’s now a graduate assistant at South Carolina.

“I’m always picking his brain,” Thomas said. “He was my mentor when I got here. I looked up to him. That’s what I want for myself with these younger guys.”

That’s the kind of attitude that resonates throughout the Mountaineers program and with Drinkwitz.

“It makes you excited to come into work every morning,” Drinkwitz said. “You’ve got a guy who can lead, who can play the position at a high level, a guy who can take a broken play and make it into a successful play.

“And you’ve got a guy, besides his ability, who’s hungry and trying to get better. He’s not satisfied with where he’s been. He carries the right kind of chip on his shoulder. He does all the things you ask him to do as a player.”

David Scott: @davidscott14