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Ronnie Gallagher column: Boone is the perfect place to be

BOONE — Want to know how perfect things are in Boone these days?

On Saturday, Appalachian State students were walking around wearing shorts.

That usually doesn’t happen in the mountains on Jan. 13. But over the past month, the clouds have parted and nothing but sunshine has poured down on this town:

* On Dec. 14, Donte Minter, a former West Rowan star and Virginia transfer, played his first game for the 5-3 Mountaineer basketball team.

When dawn broke Saturday, App. State hadn’t lost since.

* On Dec. 15, Appalachian State’s football team won its second straight Division I-AA national championship.

When dusk settled Saturday, App. State hadn’t stopped celebrating its gridiron glory.

Everyone seems to have black and gold as part of their wardrobe. And if you don’t, you go to the mall and buy something black and gold.

Perpetual smiles abound, whether you’re on the second floor at Wendy’s or in a bar across from campus.

“It all happens so fast,” said Anthony “Whopper” Williams. “I’m loving it.”

*

The Whopper, formerly a Northwest Cabarrus Trojan, is currently a freshman defensive lineman for the best D-I-AA team in the country. He and his football teammates were decked out in their jerseys during Saturday’s basketball game against Elon.

Every timeout consisted of a player or two walking to midcourt to be cheered on by the Holmes Center crowd.

At halftime, chancellor Ken Peacock walked to midcourt with two championship trophies and the crowd of 4,000 stood as one.

They did the same for the basketball team for 39 minutes, 56 seconds. But the Mountaineers, who blew a

14-point second-half lead, lost their first game in the Minter Era, 64-63.

The loss left ASU 12-4 overall and

4-1 in Southern Conference play.

Minter and his teammates walked out with heads lowered, but the crowd didn’t have time to sulk. The football players and their head coach Jerry Moore spread out around the concourse to sign autographs, keeping the fans standing in line for another hour.

“I’m just signing everything,” laughed Williams. “I love the fans.”

*

While football fans were engulfed with Mountaineer Mania, the basketball team quietly won seven straight and earned a ranking of ninth in midmajortop25.com.

Minter started strong but his production has fallen off lately. The burly, 6-foot-8 lefty who once shot hooks over Shelden Williams, saw only 17 minutes against Elon and scored just five points.

“I’ve got to get it going,” insisted Minter, who has another chance tonight when the Mountaineers host Western Carolina. “I’m struggling.”

Struggling or not, coach Houston Fancher called Minter’s number three times in the final minutes after Elon rallied to tie the score at 60.

Minter got the ball down low and powered to the basket where he was fouled. He hit a free throw for a 61-60 lead.

Elon scored and the ball was dumped inside to Minter again. His spin move gave App. State a 63-62 lead.

Elon scored and again it was Minter time. He went up in the lane against three Elon players. Everyone listened for a whistle and a foul call. Didn’t happen.

“I’m never going to say I got fouled,” shrugged Minter. “We just shouldn’t have let the game get that close.”

Minter appears to be feeling the pressure and he doesn’t like it.

“Teams are throwing a lot of different looks at me,” he explained. “I’m struggling, I guess, because I’m expecting the (double-team) and it doesn’t come. When I don’t expect it, it comes.

“I’ve just got to relax and play. I’ve just gotta focus.”

*

Boone hasn’t gotten the love for its football team out of its system yet.

Williams didn’t even play in the 28-17 win over Massachussets when the teams converged on Chattanooga. But on Saturday, no one cared. No. 98 was a part of the team and the fans wanted every signature they could get.

“That was the only game I didn’t play in this year,” Williams said. “There were two seniors in front of me and both were producing. So it didn’t bother me one bit. They are leaving and I’ve got three more years.”

Any predictions for a three-peat?

“I know we have the caliber of team to do something,” he grinned.

Williams went home over Christmas, saying, “I got nothing but love.”

But it couldn’t have been better than this. Football Fever won’t subside in Boone until the 2006 title rings are handed out.

“It’s going to feel nice on my finger,” the Whopper said through a gleaming smile. “But I’m not going to wear it much. I’m going to give it to my dad and he’ll put it in the trophy case at home.”

*

Minter would like to be wearing a ring at the end of his season, too.

A SoCon championship isn’t out of the question. Fancher has recruited an athletic, exciting squad, led by point guard D.J. Thompson, who smiles almost as much as an App. State football player.

Long, lean forward Jeremy Clayton is a double-double waiting to happen. Demetrius Scott scored 21 points in 32 minutes against Elon. Although he had an off game, Nathan Cranford has already set a school record for 3-pointers in a game.

And then, there’s Minter, who is finding out out that it doesn’t really matter anymore that he played in the big, bad ACC.

“I’ll tell anybody,” he said. “You’ve got players everywhere. You’ve got to bring it every night.”

If Appalacian State does get into the SoCon title game (on ESPN) and makes the NCAA Tournament (on CBS), then maybe — just maybe, the hoopsters will take center-stage and give Boone another group of athletes to gush over.

And Boone would remain the perfect place to be.

*

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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