Appalachian State Mountaineers’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Joey Aguilar, Nate Johnson

    A Sun Belt contender, the Appalachian State Mountaineers are loaded this year, with QB Joey Aguilar leading their top 10 returning players.

    With the new playoff format, a Group of Five team will be guaranteed a spot in college football’s postseason tournament. While experts expect teams like Memphis, Tulane, and Liberty to compete for that spot, don’t count the Appalachian State Mountaineers — whose top 10 returning players give them a shot of winning the Sun Belt — out of postseason contention.

    Appalachian State Mountaineers’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Avarion Cole, STAR

    Avarion Cole is the new guy and I’m taking a risk including him before we see an initial depth chart. That said, Cole starred for North Carolina A&T at the FCS level in 2022 and 2023 and has the talent to be one of the better starters on App State’s defense.

    I was a huge fan of Cole in high school and always thought he was an FBS player, even if he didn’t get the offers immediately. The new Mountaineer is highly productive from a takeaway perspective, forcing six turnovers in his two seasons with NC&T.

    9) Santana Hopper, DL

    Santana Hopper plays all over the defensive line and finished with 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks last fall. App State will rely on him even more this season as a redshirt sophomore.

    He plays the run well and should improve even more as a pass rusher in 2024. The defensive line rotation will be monumentally important as the Mountaineers should throw a bit more on offense and could have fewer clock-sapping drives.

    8) Kanye Roberts, RB

    Kanye Roberts was App State’s second-leading rusher last season and should step up as the starter this year after the departure of Nate Noel. The 5’11”, 200-pounder took over as the starter down the stretch and has plenty of college experience after a 123-carry campaign last year.

    Roberts is a strong runner who has breakaway potential. The passing game should be excellent this season, so if Roberts can provide some good balance — and stay close to the 5.7 yards a carry he had last year — the offense should be among the best in the country.

    7) Jordan Favors, S

    Jordan Favors had a breakout season as a sophomore, picking off four passes and registering 35 tackles on his way to an All-Sun Belt Honorable Mention. This year, the safety is one of the leaders of the defense.

    App State should have the luxury of being multiple on defense with several versatile defenders on the back end. Favors makes the coaching staff extremely comfortable and has big-play potential on the back end of the defense.

    6) Christan Horn, WR

    Horn is the ultimate role player whose impact goes beyond the box score. That being said, his numbers aren’t bad either, putting up over 500 yards each of the last two years.

    MORE: 2024 Sun Belt WR Rankings

    Last season, he caught a Hail Mary to beat Troy in one of the wildest finishes of the year. He also excels as a blocker and as a red-zone target.

    5) Ethan Johnson, CB

    Ethan Johnson is now the guy after Tyrek Funderburk graduated. He was highly productive last year, racking up 56 tackles and 11 pass breakups from his corner position.

    Now, he’ll look to take his game to the next level as the star cornerback. A second-team All-Sun Belt selection last year, Johnson will look to improve his ball skills and interception numbers as a junior.

    4) Kaedin Robinson, WR

    Kaedin Robinson is one of my favorite receivers in the Group of Five. At 6’2″ and 205 pounds, he still has the speed to get vertical in the passing game. Last year, he caught 67 passes for over 900 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    The Mountaineers’ standout has a lot of help around him in the Appalachian State offense this year. You’ll struggle to find a trio in the Sun Belt as talented as Robinson, Horn, and Roberts. Add Dalton Stroman and tight end Eli Wilson to the mix, and the Mountaineers’ skill group is fantastic.

    3) Jack Murphy, OT

    App State’s offensive line has long been among the strongest positions, but they’ll lose two All-Sun Belt performers from last season. However, Jack Murphy returns after starting at tackle last year.

    A Marshall transfer, Murphy came out of nowhere last year to earn second-team All-Sun Belt Honors. This year, he’s a known commodity who will allow the Mountaineers time to get vertical in the passing game.

    2) Nate Johnson, EDGE

    Just a sophomore, Nate Johnson led the Mountaineers in sacks last season. He’s incredibly long and gets off the line in a hurry. He’s listed on App State’s official roster as a linebacker, but he’s more of a tweener edge rusher.

    He was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection last year and should be even better with some extra time in the weight room this offseason.

    1) Joey Aguilar, QB

    It’s hard to believe Joey Aguilar didn’t begin the season as the starter last fall because he was unstoppable when he came off the bench. He took home Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Honors last following a breakout campaign and showed legitimate NFL talent.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Sun Belt QB Rankings

    If Aguilar puts together a similar or even better campaign as a senior, the Mountaineers should be in the running for a spot in the College Football Playoff. He’s the key to their success and could be a nationally recognized name by the end of the year.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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