CORAL GABLES — It may feel like even the mountains of the Blue Ridge will be rooting against the Hurricanes this weekend.
Seemingly everyone in Boone, N.C. — population 17,122 people, elevation 3,333 feet — is fired up about Appalachian State hosting Miami this weekend. The overflow crowd, a regular sight at Kidd-Brewer Stadium, will be larger than usual since it’s the first time the Mountaineers have welcomed a Power Five opponent. Coach Scott Satterfield said today 34,000 to 35,000 fans are expected.
Among the visitors, Stacy Searels is probably least likely to be fazed.
After all, Miami’s offensive line coach is the only Hurricane who has a direct connection to Appalachian State. It was the first college coaching job and he spent seven years there. College Football Hall of Fame coach Jerry Moore hired Searels, now 51, to coach his offensive line in 1994. His first assignment was protecting Satterfield, who was App State’s quarterback and a senior on the 1995 team that went 12-1.
Similar to Mark Richt‘s playing days at Miami, Searels enjoyed moderate success in Boone before the Mountaineers became nationally recognized. His time included three wins at local rival Wake Forest, and a close (22-15) loss at Searels’ alma mater, Auburn, in 1999.
“We would always play the big guys,” Searels said.
“For those guys, it’s a chance to prove themselves, but they’ve already proven themselves. They won 11 ballgames last year. They will look at it like it’s another game — just like all good football [teams do].”
He said that’s an attitude that existed well before App State slayed its first giant, No. 5 Michigan, in Ann Arbor in 2007. That year, the Mountaineers won their third FCS (then Div. 1-AA) national title in a row. Before the season, Searels, who coached at Cincinnati and LSU after leaving App State in 2000, was hired by Richt as Georgia’s offensive line coach.
Searels, who coached Georgia’s line from 2007-10 and spent time at Texas and Virginia Tech afterward, said relationship with Richt and “a chance to win at the highest level” were his reasons for coming to Miami.
“He’s a very, very competitive individual,” Searels said of Richt. “He’s an outstanding offensive mind. He’s an awesome person. He treats people the way they ought to be treated.”
That might apply to Searels, too.
Returning home from a game in 2000, Appalachian State’s support van was hit head-on by another vehicle and burst into flames. When the team bus arrived moments later, Searels and fellow assistants Shawn Elliot (now with South Carolina) and Rob Best raced off the bus and helped drag 13 men and women — 11 of them hurt, one with life-threatening injuries — away from the burning van. The three coaches were awarded the NCAA’s Award of Valor, an honor awarded 17 times since 1974.
Searels, well-traveled, has been back to Boone a couple times to visit friends. He recommends the Dan’l Boone Inn — yes, the town is named after the American pioneer Daniel Boone, who camped there in the 1750s — for high-quality Southern food. He’s grateful and happy with this stop in his career, but he won’t mind breathing a little mountain air again.
“It’s different,” he said. “The mountains are beautiful. The leaves will be changing. People are very passionate about their football.”
That hasn’t changed.
Hurricanes OL talk
After playing 13 different offensive linemen in the opener against Florida A&M, Searels played the seven he trusts against FAU.
Behind starters Trevor Darling, Kc McDermott, Nick Linder, Danny Isidora and Sunny Odogwu, two backups — guard Alex Gall and tackle Tyree St. Louis — saw action.
They entered the game with Miami up 17-3 in the third quarter. Gall replaced McDermott at left guard, and St. Louis relieved Odogwu at right tackle. During the next series, McDermott returned as Gall subbed at right tackle for Isidora. Miami later worked a set with Gall and St. Louis as the right guard and tackle.
“They played well,” Searels said. “I think either one of those guys could be starters.”
Both Gall and St. Louis played 17 of Miami’s 71 offensive snaps, relieving McDermott, Odogwu (65 each) and Isidora (60), the latter of whom he praised as “an excellent leader.” The only constant was Linder, who played the entire game at center.
In the FAMU game, Hunter Knighton (right tackle, center) and Tyler Gauthier (both guard spots) got the longest looks beyond the top seven.
Against FAU, the line had its issues protecting Brad Kaaya, who was not sacked but threw an interception as defensive end Trey Hendrickson smacked him. Searels wasn’t pleased about that or his unit’s three penalties, particularly the false starts by Gall and Odogwu. He seemed to disagree with a personal foul call on McDermott, deeming it “an interesting call.”
The good: Miami’s offensive line — and the fullback, tight ends and receivers — have been blocking exceptionally well for a run game that ranks second nationally in yards per carry (8.69) and touchdowns (10) and sixth in yards per game (326). “We mix our schemes,” Searels said. “We play a little zone, a little power, some stretch plays. We try to keep things simple and try to play fast.”
That comment came after he initially deflected praise to Mark Walton and Joe Yearby.
“I really like the way our running backs are running,” he said. “They run hard, they run fast. If we turn somebody loose, they make them miss. I really enjoy watching those cats run.”