Almost a decade ago, on the opening weekend of the 2007 college football season, in one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Appalachian State took down fifth-ranked Michigan at the Big House. The result sent ripples in both directions: Michigan finished with an 8-4 record, saw its legendary head coach Lloyd Carr retire and spent the next eight seasons mired in mediocrity. For Appalachian State, the win shined a light on the school’s talented football program, which went on to win three straight FCS championships, from 2005-2007, while competing against some of the best programs in the country.
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Appalachian State became an FBS school in 2014 when they joined the Sun Belt conference school, but with an enrollment just a little over 19,000, they’re still fighting a major battle when it comes to recruitment. Still, when the Mountaineers almost took down No. 9 Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville, in a game they really should have won, it no longer felt like a surprise. Dig a little deeper into Appalachian State’s program, specifically its strength and conditioning outfit, and you will understand how a small school in the mountains of North Carolina became a powerhouse: They simply outwork everybody else.
Each off-season, Appalachian State players participate in what they call the “Battle for the Belt,” in which eight teams, each selected by a team captain, compete in both traditional weightlifting and grueling, outside-the-box exercises that are exhausting just to watch. The Battle for the Belt puts players through a Tire Tug-of-War, stair climbing with weights in each hand, Tire Flips and crawling to a specific yard marker with another player on your back—to name a few.
Teams are awarded points by winning competitions, as well attending classes and participating in community service. Yoga is reportedly encouraged as a way to claim bonus points. As the summer comes to an end and the season looms, the team with the most points receives the highly sought after belt. Then they have to defend their title the following off-season.
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Aside from the Battle for the Belt, Appalachian State football players are weight room beasts. According to App State Mania, every player on the team increased their power lifts, like the Squat and Bench Press, by over 100 pounds from 2014 to 2015. The team has 57 players who can Squat 400 pounds or better. On a strict schedule (getting into the weight room four days a week, position-specific workouts on the field two days a week), along with strength and conditioning coach Mike Sirignano’s penchant for making his players run full-speed gassers immediately after practice (“We’re running to be a fourth quarter team,” Sirignano said), and you can begin to understand how the Mountaineers have become much more than an FCS team getting crushed by another FBS team just to collect a check.
So when you take on App State, you’d better come with your A-game, or else you’ll be sucking wind in the fourth quarter as the Mountaineers run and hit all day long.