By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: David Coulson will be bringing fans an insider’s look throughout the weekend on Appalachian State’s first bowl-game experience, check often for updates and also follow his posts on Twitter @DavidCoulsonFCS.
SOMEWHERE IN WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. (otherwise known as Triplett) — The clock reads 5 a.m. as I stumble out of bed on Friday morning. It is a little over 18 hours before kickoff as I prepare to cover Appalachian State’s first-ever FBS bowl game and I have nearly 500 miles of driving ahead of me today.
My head throbs from too little sleep. My body craves a couple of more hours of sleep.
The chill of the Appalachian Mountains morning has me craving the expected warmth of some Alabama sunshine. The movie line that filters through my brain this morning is a quote from Dan Aykroyd in the Blue Brothers. “We’re on a mission from God,” Aykroyd tells anyone who will listen.
Not exactly a mission from God, but a suggestion from High Country Press publisher Ken Ketchie that I journal my experience to and from Montgomery, Alabama as Appalachian State plays Ohio University on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Many Appalachian fans are already in Alabama, while many others will be heading down today, like me, deciding they don’t want to miss the Mountaineers’ first-ever real bowl game.
I was expecting to ride shotgun on this trip to the heart of Dixie, but my sidekick didn’t want to risk traveling on worn tires, so I’ll pull my battered, old Toyota Prius out of the driveway in a few minutes and begin another weekend journey.
Since my college days in 1978, most fall weekends have entailed heading to a college football game. There have been some memorable trips through the years (some of which I’ll inevitably bore readers with this weekend).
In the past 23 seasons, most of those weekends have involved Appalachian State.
When I moved to Boone in 1993 and was offered a chance to cover Mountaineer football regularly for the Charlotte Observer, I couldn’t have imagined how intertwined that ASU and I would become.
A couple of years later, I was working as sports editor for the Watauga Democrat and writing about the birth of my oldest daughter on a playoff Saturday, as Appalachian — coming off a perfect regular season — was playing James Madison in the first round of what was then called the I-AA playoffs.
When my wife’s water broke and we dashed to Watauga Medical Center at 7 a.m., I was confident I would get to 1 p.m. game on time.
Six hours later, we were listening to Brian Estridge and Steve Brown call the game on radio from our “seats” in the WMC birthing room. And yes, I actually made it to the second half of the game after little Charlotte decided to make her first appearance just before the first half ended.
With blessings from my wife, it was another Saturday and another ASU game.
Just three weeks and 20 years from that weekend, I am wondering where the years have gone.
Scott Satterfield was the App State quarterback when I started all of this and now he is the head coach.
In the years ahead, papers like the Observer, the Greensboro News and Record, the Asheville Citizen-Times and even the little, old Lenoir News-Topic would pay me to follow the exploits of Mountaineer football.
By 2000, settled into the Boone community with two daughters, something called the Internet began to take hold and suddenly people around the country were reading my opinions on App State and other I-AA football teams as I began covering sports for an online start-up called College Sporting News.
Five years later, I watched the 2005 football season unfold with Appalachian’s first of three consecutive national championship seasons.
I learned the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee like the back of my hand, as this city hosted hordes of Mountaineer fans.
You can’t think about this weekend and not remember those times at the title games.
Before I knew, I was asked by Parkway Publishing to write a coffee-table-type book on ASU’s fantastic journey through the 2005 championship campaign.
Magic on the Mountain engulfed the next two years of my life. As the years progressed, I was now writing a couple of times a week for websites from College Sports Television (CSTV for you youngsters) and eventually CBS College Sports, in addition to leading a staff of writers at College Sporting News.
The increased exposure from covering what was now called the Football Championship Subdivision and Appalachian State’s success with its second national title led to another opportunity.
I was asked to move from my quaint, forested home at Powderhorn Mountain to the bustling streets of the Philadelphia suburbs. The Sports Network had come calling and wanted me to run its annual awards program.
I was soon administering the national poll for FCS, counting ballots for the Walter Payton, Eddie Robinson and Buck Buchanan awards and writing several nationally syndicated columns per week.
With Appalachian’s continued upsurge, a lot of the games I covered still revolved around the Mountaineers.
My first weekend covering games for TSN had me on a plane to Detroit, Michigan. I was in the house at the Big House on Labor Day weekend in 2007 when the Mountaineers stunned the sports world. 34-32 was the score as Appalachian shocked No. 5-ranked Michigan and Mountaineer football would never be the same.
Suddenly, even I was being interviewed about Appalachian State.
One of my fondest memories of Michigan Stadium was when nationally-best-selling author Mitch Albom sat down next to me in the press box and talked to me about the greatest college football upsets of all-time.
The next three years included another ASU national championship and a pair of awards banquet with quarterback Armanti Edwards as the most honored guest. Edwards had become the first player ever to win back-to-back Payton Awards and I was his escort around Chattanooga.
All of those ASU moments inevitably led to the Mountaineers making the move to the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision.
And my life intersected with Appalachian again.
After over 30 years in journalism, I was asked to teach classes as an adjunct professor at Appalachian State last fall and I began working as a beat writer again on the Mountaineer trail for the High Country Press.
For about a year and a half, ASU’s move to FBS wasn’t very successful.
The Mountaineers went 4-8 during a transition season in 2013 and were 1-5 midway through last year when they finally caught a spark.
Appalachian has won 16 of its 18 games since to arrive at its destination for Saturday — the Camellia Bowl.
The car is packed, the gas tank is full and plenty of snacks are on-board. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else this weekend. Let the journey begin. Welcome along for the ride.