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Deacons Plug Along With Unique Philosophy

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn, ACC Sports Journal
February 16, 2004 WINSTON-SALEM —After three seasons on the job, and with his fourth recruiting class now under his belt, Jim Grobe is honest about the unique challenges involved in luring football players to Wake Forest. “For us, a lot of the kids we take are sleepers,”Grobe said on signing day, with a bit of a realistic laugh. “When you ask me, ‘Well, how'd your recruiting class go, coach?'I honestly have to tell you I'll let you know in three years. The thing I feel good about these kids, like our last two classes that we've brought in, I think in two or three years (other schools) will look at these kids and say we really missed on that guy or we really should have gone harder after that guy.” Every year, Grobe and his assistants face a much more difficult and complicated task than a large majority of coaches in the ACC and around the country. Most Division I-A programs head into the recruiting process with a higher profile, and they spend their time sorting through players with obvious I-A potential. Wake Forest walks in with virtually no built-in advantages, and its coaches know they can't spend all of their time reaching for athletes whom they have little chance of signing. Instead, the Deacons must be very careful in picking which high-profile prospects are worth their time and energy. Then they must hit a decent percentage on those, just to try to land two or three per year. More importantly, the staff must spend hours trying to pick apart the rest of the recruits, those just below the radar of most major programs. They must find the best of the sleepers. While a miss at the top talent level still can produce a serviceable reserve in many cases, a miss at the sleeper level usually creates a completely unproductive roster spot. Here's another very important, but extremely under-publicized, fact to consider in the Deacons'unique challenge: At Wake Forest, unlike many schools in the BCS conferences, even the career reserves often stick around to complete their education in four or five years. That long-standing trend in Winston-Salem does wonders for the Deacs'graduation rates, but it doesn't do much for the team's pursuit to win football games. All programs keep long lists of second-choice recruits whom they will go after if their top targets head elsewhere. Wake quarterbacks Ben Mauk, from last year's class, and Allan Holland, from this year's group, are good examples. Both received attention from bigger programs, but not enough to get early scholarship offers from those schools. That's often where Wake comes into play. A year ago, they lured Mauk into an early commitment, then held on with both hands as some heavyweights inquired about the record-setting QB's availability during and after a productive senior season. This year, the stakes weren't quite as high, but the result was the same. Wake found itself in need of a quarterback after missing many of its own primary targets at the position, and coaches found the size (6-2, 220) and arm strength they liked in Holland, whose only other offers were from Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky. “You talk about sleepers,”Grobe said. “I think this is a kid who … was kind of strung along by a lot of people and never really picked up.” The Deacons have used a number of strategies in their attempts to identify and land these best-of-the-rest types of players. One is to look for athletes who haven't yet grown into their football skills or their bodies. The coaches have to see the potential for more, preferably much more, then gamble that it will develop with time and instruction. Aaron Curry, a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker from in-state power Fayetteville Smith, was an example from this year's class. “Here is a guy who, for whatever reason, I can't tell you, maybe because he was a little bit lighter, was not heavily recruited,”Grobe said. “This guy's growth potential is unlimited. He's got big hands, a big frame and is very athletic.” One advantage of landing good, multi-purpose athletes is that Grobe often can move them around to fill holes created by other recruiting misses. For example, Dominic Anderson was recruited as a running back, moved to secondary and shined there, then moved back to running back when that spot looked uncomfortably thin. Another angle is to look for players who have been pushed further down the recruiting lists of other major programs because of injuries. The examples of this approach in action last year included receiver Kevin Marion and lineman Brodie Overstreet. Marion was limited to one season on the gridiron in high school because of two knee injuries, but he has sub-4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash and owns the Florida state record in the long jump. Overstreet had a bout with Graves Disease, which caused him to lose weight and other programs to pause. He's now 6-7, healthy and more than his listed 290 pounds. This season, receiver Chip Vaughn of regional power Fairfax (Va.) Robinson fit that mold. He transferred in from Colorado after his sophomore season of high school, then injuries severely limited him on the gridiron at Robinson as a junior, but he showed blazing speed when he was healthy. His work ethic, size and speed convinced Wake to go after him, while others who were interested, including N.C. State, Colorado and Virginia, hesitated. A third common Wake Forest tactic, and possibly the most important one, is to identify these targets as quickly as possible, work them hard and then offer them early —before other major programs are ready to give their highest-level sales pitches. Grobe's signee lists are littered with these kinds of players, those who might have received an offer from a state program had they been willing to chance it by waiting. This year, Vaughn and North Carolina defensive end Brandon Drumgoole were good examples. Wake worked and offered Vaughn while others were waiting to see about his injuries, and Drumgoole grew into his body (6-6, 235) and had a strong senior season, leaving Wake looking smart in the end. “We were looking at two other prospects at the school on junior tape, and we actually called the high school coach and said, ‘Who the heck is 85?'”Wake Forest recruiting coordinator Ray McCartney said. “(Drumgoole) jumped off the tape at us. We had him at our summer camp and fell in love with him. We offered him early, so that when other schools came in late we were pretty solid.” But there's so much more to the talent hunt for the Deacons. Wake struggles to recruit far from home, in part because it has an image problem. In particular, prospects from outside the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland through Georgia) region often comment that they didn't even know Wake Forest existed before the Deacs started recruiting them. Wake also can struggle in its own state, in part because its image is too well-known —as a losing program. This year, the Deacons'entire recruiting class came from the South: Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Under Jim Caldwell and some of his predecessors, the Wake roster always included plenty of players from Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “We're a Southern school. That's just what we are,”Grobe said. “We've had a lot of success in the state of North Carolina with guys that I think will play some great football for us. We'd like to do better in North Carolina. We'll continue to work hard in-state, but Georgia's been good to us and Florida's been good to us. We're trying to get up North a little bit. We got up into the Northeast a little bit, up into Chicago, but it's just hard to drag those kids too far from home.” So Wake pitches to those “almost major”kids that they can keep close to home and at least play against the state programs and other heavyweights in college. In their own somewhat perverse way, the Wake coaches even were happy, in at least one narrow sense, to be able to tell recruits about Miami joining the ACC. “I don't think there's any question it helped us with those Pahokee kids (receiver Demir Boldin, cornerback Alphonso Smith, linebacker Antonio Wilson) and (fellow Florida prospect) Stanley Arnoux,”Grobe said, “because they know that they have a chance to go down and play Miami and Florida State.” Then there are those academic standards —those Wake's coaches are held to by the university's admissions office (tougher than most), and those they have to make their players adhere to after they arrive on campus so they can stay eligible and on the field. “What we're looking for are kids that will walk out of Wake Forest with a degree,”Grobe said. “Now that sounds like that's coachspeak, talking about we want them to get their degrees, but it's selfishly that we want old players playing for us. We don't want to keep playing young guys. We want to get to one day where the majority of our guys are 23 years old out there. And we can't do that if we can't keep them in school.” If Grobe succeeds at those challenges and builds a roster of talented and experienced players, then he likely will have to deal with even more cases of a relatively new phenomenon in Winston-Salem: transfers over playing time. For most of the last 50 years, Wake Forest football players often were just happy to be with an ACC program instead of in the Southern Conference, and they usually didn't dream of transferring in search of something more. But this year, Grobe saw four players leave for that reason. He said it's a problem he can handle and, in a way, a sign of the Deacons'progress on the field. “We're going to have some kids, because we're becoming competitive, that are going to transfer because they don't think they can play,”Grobe said. “Hopefully, as we develop into a more competitive program, the only kind of kids that we're going to lose are not academics but (rather) they aren't getting as much playing time as they want.” Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, all of these things are roadblocks to building up the kind of quality depth that the consistently successful programs almost always have and that Wake Forest almost never enjoys. “Our first three years, we've just been, from a depth standpoint, really bad. I mean really bad,”Grobe said. “And we've had to play some schemes that we normally would not want to play. But we're getting better. We're starting to fill our needs a little better. I'm not saying we're there yet, but we're heading in the right direction. “We really want to get to the point where we have 16, 17, 18 seniors every year. If we can do that, we can lay a little foundation. Then if you've got 15 fourth-year juniors behind that, that's when you've got it. If the majority of your team every year is junior-senior, and it just keeps being that way every year, now you're in pretty good shape.” Again, Grobe clearly is realistic about recruiting at Wake. He understands that it's not just about stockpiling talent. It's about finding players, helping them grow and working them through a system on the field that takes every advantage of their skills. “We know coming in that we're behind the eight-ball as far as finding the right kids for Wake Forest,”Grobe said. “The thing we can never lose sight of is that we're really in player development. We've got to do a great job with these kids once they get here.” So does this unique recruiting system actually work? Well, with records of 6-5, 7-6 and 5-7 on the field during his first three seasons in Winston-Salem, Grobe came darn close to being the first Wake Forest coach in more than 50 years to post three straight winning campaigns. He also can point to some individual success stories on the recruiting trail. From Wake's 2001 class, which signed on the dotted line just eight weeks after Grobe accepted the job, quarterback Cory Randolph already has blossomed into a solid starter, and he still has two seasons of eligibility in front of him. A Florida product, Randolph was ready to follow in the shadow of Daunte Culpepper at Central Florida before Grobe enticed him to take a late visit to Winston-Salem. He signed with the Deacs over UCF, Cincinnati, Missouri and South Florida. While just a two-star player out of Sunshine State powerhouse Lake City Columbia, Randolph may have been Wake's highest-profile signee in 2001. Another example of Wake's habit of flying below the radar on the recruiting trail is Chris Barclay, an under-recruited 2002 signee from Kentucky who has been one of the ACC's top running backs over the last two seasons. Even Barclay had scholarship offers from Boston College and Louisville, though, so perhaps the Deacons still are looking for the perfect example of a complete unknown rising up into a prominent role. Indeed, many of Grobe's sleepers probably are just beginning to wake up. Most of them will be redshirt sophomores or redshirt freshmen in 2004, and even then the league will just begin to get a sense of what he might have developed. If you understand Grobe's plan, it may be two more years before you really can judge what he's trying to build. “At Wake Forest, probably as much as any place in the whole country, we're going to bring real good players in,”Grobe said. “Are they all on Parade All-America lists? No. But hopefully there will be a lot of people in the league looking at these guys in a couple years and saying, ‘Boy, that's a pretty good group of kids.'” Duke Welcomes Late Additions Below are the ACC commitment capsules for many of the players who announced their decisions for Duke in the two weeks since our last edition. Most of the details are provided directly by college coaches, high school coaches, the players or their families. West Hills (CA) Chaminade CB Adrian Aye-Darko, rated one of the top 300 seniors in California, chose Duke over Harvard. An all-conference selection as a senior, he had 67 receptions for 1,248 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver for an 8-4 team, with 87 tackles and four interceptions as a cornerback. As a junior, he had 52 catches for 738 yards and six TDs, with 60 tackles and two interceptions on defense. Also an all-conference basketball player who received some low-major attention in that sport, Aye-Darko was one of more than 500 nominees for the 2004 McDonald's All-American Game. He runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. He has a 3.5 GPA and a 1,250 SAT score. There is a possibility he will delay his enrollment in Durham until January 2005. San Antonio (TX) Alamo Heights TE Patrick Bailey, rated one of the top 200 seniors in Texas, picked Duke over Purdue (visit) and Rice (visit). Arizona, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Texas Christian also showed interest. A second-team Class 4A all-state selection as a senior, he had 26 receptions for 308 yards and three touchdowns as a tight end for a 13-2 team, with 126 tackles and six sacks on defense. Bailey, who plans to major in electrical engineering, has a 4.0 GPA and a 1,360 SAT score, with a perfect 800 on the math portion of the standardized test. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was defensive line coach Scott Brown. The Woodlands (TX) High CB Daniel Charbonnet, rated one of the top 200 seniors in Texas, opted for Duke over Baylor, Colorado State, North Texas, Rice and Utah. Missouri also showed interest. An all-area selection, he had 89 tackles and five interceptions as a senior for a team that was ranked No. 1 in Texas'largest (5A) classification during the regular season. As a junior, he had 40 tackles and one interception. His grandfather Chuck Johns played football at LSU from 1953-55. Charbonnet benches 250 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds. He has a 3.5 GPA and a 1,000 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was defensive line coach Scott Brown. Atlanta (GA) Mays CB Jabari Marshall, rated one of the top 75 seniors in Georgia, selected Duke over Illinois, Mississippi State and South Carolina (visit). Auburn, Florida and Notre Dame also showed interest. As a senior, he led the state in interceptions with nine, posted 42 tackles and returned three kicks for touchdowns. As a junior, he had 35 tackles and three interceptions. Mays graduates who were on Division I-A rosters in 2003 included DB Cory Dious (Northwestern), OL Eric Dumas (Maryland), WR Bryan McClendon (Georgia), DB Brandon Mitchell (Ohio State), DB Sam Williams (Georgia Tech) and RB Chris Woods (Georgia Tech). A sprinter with 4.5 speed, Marshall was a member of his school's state championship 4x100 relay team as a sophomore and its region championship 4x400 relay team as a junior. He has a 3.4 GPA and a 1,020 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was head coach Ted Roof. Atlanta (GA) Douglass WR Corey Thompson, rated one of the top 75 seniors in Georgia, picked Duke over Marshall (visit), Vanderbilt and Wake Forest (visit). He also had an early offer from Wisconsin, but the Badgers backed off. A first-team Class 5A all-state selection as a return man, he had 48 receptions for 725 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior for an 8-3 team. As a junior, he had 36 catches for 686 yards and seven TDs. His brother Cheron plays cornerback for the Commodores. Other Douglass graduates who were on Division I-A rosters in 2003 included LB Terrance Campbell (Minnesota), DB Ahmad Carroll (Arkansas), RB Maurice Chapman (Navy), DB Robert Cromartie (Florida), QB Darrell Hackney (Alabama-Birmingham), DB Harlan Jacobs (Ohio State), WR Jamaal Smith (Troy State) and WR Travouris Thomas (Alabama-Birmingham). Thompson benches 230 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and a 930 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was head coach Ted Roof. Atlanta (GA) Westlake LB Alfred Williams, rated one of the top 75 seniors in Georgia, chose Duke over Cincinnati (visit), Louisville, Marshall (visit) and Wake Forest (visit). Arkansas, LSU, Maryland and UNC also showed interest. An all-area selection, he had 127 tackles and six sacks as a senior for a 9-3 team. As a junior, he had 114 tackles and four sacks. Westlake graduates who were on Division I-A rosters in 2003 included LB Keyaron Fox (Georgia Tech), DB Ben Greene (Tennessee), DB Adam Jones (West Virginia), DB Sean Jones (Georgia), DB Khalil Sutton (Vanderbilt), DT Eric Thomas (Troy State), DT David Tramble (Troy State) and DE Kwan Williams (Clemson). Alfred Williams runs the 40 in 4.65 seconds. He has a 3.3 GPA and a 1,050 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was head coach Ted Roof. Buford (GA) High WR Ryan Wood, rated one of the top 100 seniors in Georgia, chose Duke over Valdosta State and an opportunity to be a walk-on at Georgia. He played on a Buford team, coached by his father (and former Alabama player) Dexter Wood, that won 45 consecutive games and three straight state championships. A three-year starter, Ryan had 30 receptions for 555 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, earning all-area and all-county honors. As a junior, he had 29 catches for 455 yards and four TDs. He holds his school's career record for receptions with 70. Five other Buford seniors signed with Division I-A teams in February: DT/DE Neil Brown (Auburn), QB Kyle Manley (Georgia Tech), LB Zach Smith (Duke), RB Darius Walker (Notre Dame) and DE Shun Williams (Alabama-Birmingham). Buford graduates who were on Division I-A rosters in 2003 included OL Trey Chandler (Georgia), WR Lorne Sam (FSU) and WR P.K. Sam (FSU). Wood runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 4.0 GPA and a 1,000-plus SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils was defensive line coach Scott Brown. Duncan (SC) Byrnes WR Jomar Wright, rated one of the top 25 seniors in South Carolina, selected Duke over Kentucky (visit) and Wake Forest (visit). He also had offers from ECU and Memphis. A first-team all-state selection as a senior, he set a state single-season record with 103 receptions for 1,824 yards and 20 touchdowns for a state championship team. As a junior, he had 35 catches for 682 yards and eight TDs. Byrnes graduates who were on Division I-A rosters in 2003 included WR Terrell Allen (Pittsburgh), TE Ben Hall (Clemson), WR Bradley Robinson (Middle Tennessee State) and DB John Talley (Duke). Wright benches 230 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds. He has a 4.0 GPA and a 960 SAT score. UNC Gets Signing Day Surprise Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln OL Calvin Darity, rated one of the top 25 offensive linemen in the nation, chose North Carolina over FSU (visit), LSU (visit), Nebraska (visit) and Tennessee (visit). He also had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Central Florida, Duke, Florida, Louisville, Maryland, South Florida and Syracuse. He said he felt a personal connection to UNC coach John Bunting throughout the recruiting process, and he said he hopes to help the Tar Heels return to their tradition of 1,000-yard rushers. A first-team Class 4A selection, Darity had 66 pancake blocks and graded out at 92 percent as a senior for a 9-3 team. A three-year starter, he had 57 pancake blocks and graded out at 88 percent as a junior. Six other Lincoln seniors signed with Division I-A programs in February: QB Joe Bauserman (Ohio State), DE Derrick Bennett (Florida), WR/DB Jarel Edwards (Florida), TE Craig Gelhardt (Tulane), PK Jesse Hartley (Florida) and OL Danny Muy (Nebraska). Lincoln graduates who were on I-A rosters in 2003 included RB Terry Arnold (Cincinnati), OL Chris Buda (Syracuse), DB Antonio Cromartie (FSU), QB Gavin Dickey (Florida), DB Mike Gilliam (Georgia), DB Ryan Gilliam (Oregon), DT David Harley (Rutgers), OL Andrew Henry-Kennon (FSU), DE Myran Hunter (Boston College), DE Willie Johnson (Louisville), OL Hagen Mason (East Carolina), P Brent Moody (Louisville), WR Craphonso Thorpe (FSU), DB Greg Threat (Miami), DB Pat Watkins (FSU) and DB Buddy Williams (Clemson). Darity benches 330 pounds and runs the 40 in 5.0 seconds. He has a 3.9 GPA and an 1,100 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels was receivers coach Gunter Brewer.