College Football: Local players prepare for LSU

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2008

By Bret Strelow
Appalachian State aspires to upset another highly ranked heavyweight.
Gordy Witte can relate to the pressure ASU’s next target faces.
The Mountaineers, who opened last season with a stunning victory at Michigan, will meet No. 7 LSU on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium. The matchup of FCS and FBS champions is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. EST in Baton Rouge, La.
Witte, a 285-pound defensive tackle at Appalachian, excelled in several sports at Salisbury High School. He won a pair of state wrestling titles and completed his career with 69 consecutive victories.
“My senior year in wrestling, being a state champion, I was always wrestling somebody everybody expected me to beat,” Witte said. “It’s always pressure because you feel like you might not win impressive enough.
“It’s actually pretty fun to be the underdog because you don’t have anything to lose. We don’t have to worry about BCS hopes. We just have to go out there, try to compete and win a game.”
Witte made a brief appearance against Michigan and suffered a back injury two weeks later. He enters this season as a redshirt freshman who is the top backup to Malcolm Bennett at left tackle. Northwest Cabarrus alum Anthony Williams is the starter at right tackle.
More than 109,000 fans witnessed Appalachian’s victory at “The Big House,” and LSU’s “Death Valley” has a capacity of more than 92,000.
Arkansas needed three overtimes to beat the Tigers in their home finale on a Friday afternoon last season, but they haven’t lost at home on a Saturday since 2003. UAB, a 13-10 winner in 2000, handed them their last non-conference home loss.
“Rumor be told, Death Valley, nobody wins down there at night,” Williams said. “It’s almost impossible.
“Put all that down. I don’t want to hear all that. Our boys put our pants on one leg at a time, and we’ll go out and play ball.”
The Mountaineers won’t play at night, but they have experience in that setting.
Appalachian visited Baton Rouge in 2005 and exited with a 24-0 loss to a sixth-ranked LSU squad. The Tigers led 14-0 early in the second quarter, and they didn’t score again until the fourth.
Former Davie County standout Billy Riddle, an Appalachian senior, contributed on special teams in that contest.
“I know what the atmosphere is like there, and it’s awesome,” Riddle said. “People say it’s scary, and I don’t think it’s scary. It’s a lot of fun.
“I think games like that led up to the Michigan game. We saw every year that we can play with these guys, we can hang with these guys. That led up to actually doing it at Michigan. We’ve always known we could play with them, but now we know we can actually win.”
LSU will be breaking in a new quarterback because Ryan Perrilloux is no longer with the program. Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch, who played one season of junior varsity football at the Ivy League school before arriving at LSU as a walk-on, appears to be the front-runner in a competition with redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and true freshman Jordan Jefferson.
Appalachian has an inexperienced secondary, and a relatively young front seven made strides as last season progressed. The Mountaineers lost two conference games, but they closed a memorable campaign with a third straight national title.
The Michigan game led to increased exposure, but star quarterback Armanti Edwards has stressed that the outcome didn’t put a ring on his finger.
“We’re going to be ready to play, but I think the difference is LSU’s probably not going to sleep on us as much as Michigan did,” Witte said. “They know we’re national champions, and they’re national champions. They’ll probably try to be more ready for us than Michigan.”