WINSTON-SALEM – Dave Clawson’s first steps to building the Wake Forest football program his way have been more like a full-out sprint.
Clawson had less than two months to signing day (Feb. 5) when he took over from Jim Grobe, and by the time he filled out most of his staff, that was down to a month. Subtract the time that it took to try to reassure Grobe’s recruits, and Clawson hasn’t had a lot of time to fill out a class that still has a number of glaring holes (such as only three linemen, neither on the defensive side).
His initial work has been impressive. He appears to have locked down all 12 of those who had verballed to Grobe, including outside linebacker Jaboree’ Williams, who could end up being the best player in the class. Williams had started visiting other schools – including Syracuse and a scheduled visit to Boston College – before Clawson’s influence refocused him on Wake Forest.
Clawson, of course, may decide he’s not interested in a specific Grobe recruit, but no word of that has surfaced so far.
Before Grobe resigned, reports surfaced that two commitments – running back Terence Ricks and cornerback DaiQuan Lawrence, both from Chesapeake, Va. – had reopened their recruiting. It appears that Ricks, who was drawing less interest from big schools, is still committed to Wake. His Twitter bio has the hashtag #WakeForestCommit, and he mentions talking with the new staff.
Lawrence, however, is drawing a lot of attention. He’s made a visit to Virginia, and East Carolina and Syracuse are on tap. The Syracuse visit is not until Jan. 31, so his recruitment will run close to signing day.
The biggest news, however, was Clawson getting quarterback John Wolford of Jacksonville, Fla., to flip from East Carolina and commit to the Deacons. Wolford set five state career records (completions, yards, TD passes, total offense, total TDs), and he passed for 3,317 yards and ran for 931 during his senior season. As a senior, he threw for 38 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He only threw three interceptions as a junior.
Wolford stayed under the radar mostly because of his size (6-1, 208). Also, other schools perhaps were waiting to see how he would perform as a senior without receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who saw significant action as a true freshman at Florida this year. However, the attention was coming: Penn State had just offered Wolford a scholarship two days before Clawson got a verbal from him.
Wake Forest fans are hoping there’s a lot of Riley Skinner in Wolford. Skinner also was a Florida quarterback who was overlooked because of his size (6-0), but he used his tremendous accuracy and poise to lead the Deacons to the Orange Bowl in 2006.
A coach who had to face Wolford took the comparison a step further, comparing him to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is 6-1, 209, and who won the Heisman as a freshman. (Manziel was only listed at 6-0, 175 pounds when he was recruited, by the way. Scout listed him as a three-star recruit.)
“He’s Johnny Manziel, that’s what he is,” said former Baker County coach Ryan Sulkowski. “He’s Johnny Manziel all the way. A lot of schools look at the height factor, I don’t. Mechanically, he is better than any high school quarterback I’ve seen. I’m telling you, he’s legit. The throws he makes are Division I throws.”
While that comparison may be going overboard, Wolford clearly has poise in the pocket, accuracy and the ability to cause problems with his feet. He also has football in his blood: His brother, Bobby, is a linebacker at Boston College, and his uncle, Will, was a three-time Pro Bowl lineman in the NFL.
“I don’t think he has any weaknesses,” said his coach at Bishop Kenny High School, Mark Thorson. “The things you look for in a quarterback, he’s strong in all those areas: better than average arm strength, he’s super accurate, he can run the ball effectively, he doesn’t turn the ball over hardly ever.”
Those traits have some thinking he could become Wake Forest’s third straight four-year starter, a trend that started with Skinner and continued with Tanner Price. Part of that, obviously, will depend on how quickly he adapts, but the key might be whether Clawson sees 2014 as a building year or a year in which he can win.
On one hand, next year’s senior class will only have a handful of key contributors, so it would be easy to say that he should build for the future and redshirt Wolford. However, although the Deacons will be young, they should be talented. The biggest questions will be at running back and along the offensive line, but the defense could be one of the ACC’s surprises, if its young linemen can grow up quickly.
Recruiting Geography Will Change
One interesting trend to watch is where Clawson and his staff spend their time recruiting.
Grobe and his staff mainly recruited five states: Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. A little more than 80 percent of his recruits came from those areas.
Clawson’s current Bowling Green roster has 15 players from Florida but only one from the other four states.
We’ve written about Clawson’s ties to North Carolina from his days at Richmond. Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero also spent two seasons at Elon.
But will Clawson be able to dive into the South quickly? Part of the reason that Warren Belin and Derrick Jackson were kept on as assistant coaches certainly was their recruiting connections throughout the South, including Texas and Georgia specifically.
In turn, what new states will Clawson be able to open up with his staff?
For example, Grobe never had a pipeline to Ohio, despite his staff’s ties to the state. Clawson and his staff certainly know Ohio, a football-rich state, after being at Bowling Green. In addition, his Bowling Green roster has 30 players from other Midwest states (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin), areas where Grobe never recruited. Clawson also has four players from California, a spot where Grobe had only signed one player.
The most intriguing new territory, though, seems to be Pennsylvania. The state always produces plenty of talent, but Grobe basically never went north of Maryland. (While he signed a couple of players from the Northeast, he never signed a player from Pennsylvania.) Clawson’s roster at Bowling Green has six players from Pennsylvania, and his coaching staff has spent time at Villanova, Lehigh, Penn, Clarion and Lafayette.
Overall, the staff’s previous experience is very Northeast oriented, with plenty of time at schools in New York (Fordham, Hofstra, Albany, Buffalo, Cornell, Syracuse and Army), as well as New Jersey and Delaware. The Northeast has been a hotbed for Wake Forest as a school to recruit students, but never from a football standpoint. The ACC’s recent expansion through north of Maryland may help Wake Forest’s name become more recognizable.
Will Clawson be able to open new markets without losing ground in the fertile southern states? We’ll know the results of the first test in less than a month.