NEW ORLEANS — With an App State-themed walkup song accompanying their entrance — Luke Combs sings about "cheering on the Mountaineers" in "The Way I Talk" — the Sun Belt Media Day press conference officially began Thursday for head coach Shawn Clark, offensive lineman Baer Hunter and linebacker D'Marco Jackson.

After a one-year interruption because of COVID-19, the return of an in-person Media Day gathering was welcomed by many and exciting for first-timers like Hunter, Jackson and even Clark, whose first full season as the Mountaineers' head coach occurred in 2020.
 
Clark was the only first-year FBS coach to win at least nine games last season, and the Mountaineers return 85 percent of their lettermen, including a combined 17 defensive and offensive starters, from a 9-3 team.
 
App State opens the 2021 season on Sept. 2 against East Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and the Aug. 3 start of fall camp is less than two weeks away.
 
"Last year, we missed a whole summer of summer workouts, and I think that's what makes us different in some ways, that our offseason program is very tough," Clark said. "Brad Bielaniec, our strength and conditioning coach, has been able to have our players all summer with no hiccups. Just the way they look, the way they're working, I think good things are ahead for us this summer."
 
Sun Belt coaches, players, administrators and media traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday, a day after the league's preseason polls and awards were released. App State was voted the East Division co-favorite along with Coastal Carolina, while Louisiana was the clear-cut voting favorite in the West Division.
 
Hunter, entering his sixth year at App State, and Jackson, going into his fifth year, joined other players for a Creole-themed cooking and tasting event at the New Orleans School of Cooking on Wednesday night. After Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill addressed the crowd Thursday morning, Clark and the two veteran players participated in several interviews, including a visit to the league's new production studio inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
 
As leaders, Hunter and Jackson both embrace the roles they have been called upon to fill this season.
 
"You've got young guys coming in, and they're looking up to you, so you set the right example to let them know what's expected of them," Jackson said.
 
For Hunter, there's also the twist of playing a new position. He received All-Sun Belt recognition each of the last two years for his performances at right guard, and he moved to center this spring.
 
Change isn't new to him, though, considering he began his App State career as a defensive lineman and spent time at tight end before becoming a standout offensive lineman.
 
"The transition has been great," he said. "You guys will be able to see all the hard work I've put in. The motivation behind it? I love my teammates, and I love Appalachian State."
 
Football season tickets for new customers and tickets for App State's Queen City Takeover game in Charlotte went on sale earlier this summer. More info is available by clicking HERE.
 
Single-game tickets for 2021 home games at Kidd Brewer Stadium will go on sale at a later date, if they become available.