how the pandemic created a rare opportunity – The Appalachian

Andy McLean

After the 2020 season, App State senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan (right) elected to use his extra year of NCAA eligibility due to complications from the pandemic. Former teammate Noah Hannon (left) has chosen to leave App State.

Four Bowl Championships. Three Sun Belt titles. Wins in North Carolina and South Carolina, both in 2019. Ranked in the Top 25 for the first time. A combined record of 40-10.

It’s no secret that over the past four years, App State Football has accomplished a lot. The 2020 senior class would become one of the most influential and successful groups in the history of the program. But thanks to an unprecedented rule change by the NCAA due to the pandemic, most of the seniors in this group are not yet a part of App State history – because they are still a part of the present.

“I can’t say a word or pinpoint exactly how I feel, because it’s special,” said App State head football coach Shawn Clark.

In August, the NCAA granted all fall sports athletes an additional year of eligibility due to complications and interruptions of roller coaster season during a global pandemic. That meant every senior on the 2020 Mountaineers roster would have the chance to return for a fifth, and in some cases a sixth, year of college football.

“I know we’ve all had very different decision-making processes, and a lot of different things went into it,” said super senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan. “It was a very unique circumstance.”

Graphic by Silas Albright

After App State finished the season with a dominant win over north texas in the Myrtle Beach Bowl, 13 of those seniors finally decided to take advantage of the extra year and come back to Boone for one last ride as “super” seniors. Nine of those 13 were mountaineers starters. So if there is one thing listing is guaranteed to have in 2021, this is the experience.

“These guys came here – I’m the third head football coach they’ve been through,” Clark said. “So they know what the expectations are and they know how to lead by example. “

Super senior offensive lineman Baer Hunter has had one of the App State’s most unique careers. He was drafted as a defensive end and red shirt in 2016. With three games to play in the 2017 season, Hunter moved from the D line to the tight end. The following year, Hunter changed positions again, finding success in his new role at the right guard station on the O line, starting 12 games. Over the past two seasons, Hunter has started all 26 games at right-back, earning second-team All-Sun Belt recognition in 2019 and first-team honors as a senior redshirt in 2020.

When the time came for Hunter to decide whether to return to the Mountaineers for a sixth year or move on, he said the biggest motivation for him to return was his need for more movies for the Scouts to see. NFL. Four-year-old starting center Noah Hannon decided to quit App State after the 2020 season, giving Hunter the chance to switch positions again, this time down the O-line center.

“I had the opportunity to move to a position that would put me in a better position to try and play to the next level,” said Hunter. “It definitely made me want to stay here longer.”

As the O-Line’s most experienced returner, Hunter’s positive impact as an individual player is evident. But offensive line coach Nic Cardwell said he noticed something important during this year’s spring training that he had never seen before at Hunter: taking a young player aside. and motivate him.

“In terms of maturity, he brings a wealth of knowledge,” Cardwell said.

In addition to earning more movies and developing further as a player in his sixth year, Hunter will be leaving App State with his master’s degree, thanks to his presence to take classes when he was in a red shirt with the team. .

The two most obvious impacts that Super Seniors have on the program are from a real football perspective, affecting play on the pitch, and from an off-pitch perspective, mentoring and helping the younger ones. But Joey Jones, App State’s director of communications for the football team and sports in general, spoke of another way this group returning for another year affects the program.

“I think something that is probably an underrated aspect is the fan base, and the elders know who these guys are. They don’t have to learn new guys, ”Jones said. “Having the fan base immediately recognizing them honestly makes our job of marketing the program easier. “

Have superstars like wide receiver Corey Sutton, known for his spectacular touchdowns and acrobatic catches, and defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor, immortalized for the havoc he wrecked against North Carolina, back for another year, has a positive impact on the program at almost every level.

Fans of App State were already eager to return to a crowded Kidd Brewer stadium for a more normal 2021 season. Add 13 of the most accomplished and memorable players for an unprecedented additional year? App Nation counts the days until kick off.

“From a fan’s perspective, there’s so much buzz,” said Landon Judy, App State graduate student and vice president of the Yosef Student Club. “I am part of the Twitter App. I’m really involved with a lot of fans, and to be able to talk to our alumni and season ticket holders and students in general, they’re excited to see these players back. ”

Editor’s Note: Below is an audio interview of Silas Albright with App State Super Senior Wide Receiver Thomas Hennigan. Press play to hear Hennigan’s take on what prompted the decision to return for another year

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