Damascus senior George Vinson had heard the rumblings well before he signed a National Letter of Intent to play linebacker at Appalachian State last month, and the buzz about the Boone, N.C., school’s possible move to the Football Bowl Subdivision from his future teammates only grew stronger. On Wednesday, as Vinson enjoyed a spring break vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the news became official.
The Mountaineers announced plans to jump from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 along with rival Georgia Southern, meaning by Vinson’s sophomore year the team will be competing at college football’s highest level.
“They said a few times in prior years it had been discussed, and this year, it seemed like there was a really good chance,” Vinson said. “I think [the coaches] knew it was going to happen, but they didn’t want to say that much about it” during the recruiting process.
Vinson has been told he’ll have a chance to play right away, competing for a role as an inside linebacker in the team’s revamped 3-4 defense, and this move will have an immediate effect.
The Mountaineers will keep the same schedule this fall as planned but not be eligible to win the conference championship or compete in the FCS playoffs. In 2014, they’ll jump in with a full Sun Belt schedule and have the chance for a conference title but will not be eligible to play in a bowl game until the following year.
The moves are part of an overhaul for the Sun Belt from a football standpoint to help offset the losses of Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic to Conference USA this year. The conference, which has a television contract with ESPN, also added Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members to get to 12 schools that sponsor the sport.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Vinson said. “I’ll still get to play in the Southern Conference but not compete for a championship, and then we’re in the Sun Belt. Really, the two years that I’ll care about most are my junior and senior years. The two years that will really count for me we’ll have a chance for a bowl.”
With the Mountaineers, Vinson will join former teammate Joel Ross, a rising junior defensive back. They started together on defense for the Hornets in 2010.
The team did not sign any other local prospects this year, but the roster includes several other players with area ties in rising sophomore wide receiver Bobo Beathard (Battlefield), rising sophomore wide receiver Sean Price (South Lakes) and redshirt freshman Mike Counts (Edison).
Georgia Southern currently has just one local player listed on its roster and did not add any from the area in its latest recruiting class. Osbourn Park grad Drew Ruggles, a rising senior who also plays soccer at the school, joined the football team as a kicker late last fall.
Vinson, an honorable mention All-Met pick, had dreamed of playing for an FBS school. He originally gave an oral commitment to Buffalo of the Mid-American Conference in June before re-opening his recruitment. He took visits to Penn State and Rutgers after that but those offers never materialized.
He also checked out William & Mary, Delaware and Towson among other FCS schools and ended up picking Appalachian State, then an FCS school with the feel of a top-level program.
“App State really looks like [an FCS school],” Vinson said. “It’s just far beyond anything else I’ve seen at that level. Their facilities are definitely ready for the Sun Belt.”
Vinson, who has been working out three days a week with a personal trainer to get ready for college football, said he plans to stop by Appalachian State on the way home from his vacation. He plans to be back in Boone on April 20 for the team’s spring game.
NUMBER CRUNCH: 2
Home runs hit by the top-ranked Riverdale Baptist baseball team in a 6-3 victory over McNamara on Thursday. Junior Andrew Sharpe and senior Troy White went deep to help the Crusaders (9-0) keep their perfect record intact. University of Maryland recruit Chase Brewis did his part on the mound with eight strikeouts.
— In a rematch of last year’s Virginia AAA boys’ lacrosse state title game, Langley held off Chantilly, 8-5. The Saxons were upset by Robinson earlier in the day, their first regular season loss to a AAA Northern Region team since falling to Madison on April 28, 2009.
— Severn girls’ lacrosse Coach Irene Sotiropoulos asked senior midfielder Kelly Reese to be more aggressive on offense this season. The Virginia recruit took charge on Tuesday with two goals and two assists as the ninth-ranked Admirals knocked off No. 5 Severna Park, 11-6. On the boys’ side of the rivalry, the 10th-ranked Falcons snapped a 13-game losing streak against Severn behind senior Weston Butcher‘s game-winning goal.
PHOTOS FROM LAST NIGHT:
Check out highlights from Langley’s win over Chantilly at the Robinson Invitational.
WHAT TO WATCH TODAY:
Girls’ Lacrosse: Holy Cross vs. Georgetown Visitation, 11 a.m.
The light local schedule on the Friday before Easter features just 12 games with more than half of those DCIAA baseball contests. If you’re looking to attend a high school game, your best bet is to head to a diamond in the District this afternoon. But probably the most intriguing matchup involving two local teams is taking place in Florida. Both No. 2 Georgetown Visitation and defending WCAC champ Holy Cross are on spring break trips and will get together more than 800 miles from home on Friday morning. Last year, the teams met in Kensington with the Cubs claiming a 13-10 victory.