WINSTON-SALEM – Wake Forest recently received a commitment from a football player out of Florida, and that’s news, believe it or not.
After years of relying heavily on Florida recruits, coach Jim Grobe and the Deacons have been downsizing in the last two classes. From 2007 to 2012, about 37 percent of Wake’s recruits came from Florida. In the 2013 and 2014 classes, that number has dropped to 19 percent (with a few 2014 spots left to fill).
Center A’lique Terry, who committed in mid-October, is only the second player from Florida in the 2014 class of 11 players so far. Terry, from Hialeah, followed Fort Lauderdale linebacker Jaboree’ Williams, who committed in May.
Traditionally, Grobe has recruited five states: North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Texas and Georgia. From 2007-2011, for example, 86 percent of Wake’s recruits came from those five states. Maryland and Alabama also have made frequent appearances.
But in 2012, Grobe started to diversify. For one reason, his staff has been undergoing a number of changes in the past few years, which brought in new contacts across the country. Grobe also realized that perhaps a routine had settled in, and for a school that has to stretch for talent, a little more work was required.
“Georgia, Florida and Texas have been really good, but with the academics at Wake Forest, we can’t just settle into one state or just have a region, we have to go find players,” Grobe said on signing day earlier this year.
As a result of this new emphasis, the Deacons have signed the two most diverse classes in Grobe’s tenure since his first full class in 2002. In 2012, Wake signed players from nine states, the most since it hit 10 states in that 2002 class. In 2013, the Deacons topped that mark with recruits from 12 states.
Grobe has praised the talent in those two classes, as well: “We’ve had a couple good recruiting classes back-to-back. I think the past couple of years we’ve done a better job evaluating the kids that we’re bringing in.”
So it’s interesting to note that so far for the Class of 2014, the Deacons have returned to their usual haunts. While only two players have come from Florida, all 11 players so far have been from the “Big Five” states mentioned earlier.
And this class might not get a lot bigger. Grobe only has 13 seniors on the roster, and not many of the redshirt juniors look like candidates to graduate early and leave the program.
Also interesting is the proportion of North Carolina players, who make up five of the 11 so far. While Grobe has traditionally recruited North Carolina, he’s done it in small doses. Only about 19 percent of his signees from 2007-2013 were from Wake’s home state.
Grobe’s success rate with in-state recruits also seems to be dropping. In the five classes from 2002-2006, about 63 percent of Grobe’s N.C. recruits became productive players. In the five classes from 2007-2011, that number dropped to 45 percent.
The five N.C. commitments so far are the most since five in 2009. Grobe better hope that his staff’s ability to gauge in-state talent has improved.
Receiving Talent At A Premium
Perhaps the top N.C. player in the class so far is receiver Jaylan Barbour out of Monroe. While Barbour is not a four-star recruit, he was pursued by other major area schools, such as UNC, N.C. State, USC and West Virginia.
Barbour may get a chance to play right away, not because of his talent, but because of the lack of talent in the program. When trying to put a finger on Wake Forest’s decline over the last few years, most of the attention has been on the offensive line, which has certainly been a problem.
But the recruiting mistakes at wide receiver can’t be ignored. The Deacons have seen drive after drive end over the last two seasons because a receiver other than Michael Campanaro couldn’t hold on to a third-down pass. Drops end drives and force the defense back into action, impacting the Deacons all over the field.
Grobe identified the problem last fall: “Our biggest issue right now is with Coach (Lonnie) Galloway and the receivers. We’ve gotten really spotty play out of our guys right now. Not being overly negative, but we’re dropping too many balls. We’re kind of up and down with that. At times we’re clicking pretty good. And at times we look like we’re catching the Sears and Roebuck catalog out there.”
The problem got worse when Campanaro went down with an injury last season, and it remained a problem this fall.
“The biggest thing we’re looking for this preseason is consistency,” said new receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield during the preseason. “I want to come out of this camp saying that we have three or four guys that are consistently catching the ball and that our play is consistent.”
That didn’t happen, as the problems carried through to the season, when losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe were definitely impacted by a number of dropped passes by the Deacons.
Grobe and the Deacons recruited pretty well at receiver in the mid-2000s. In 2006, Wake signed Marshall Williams, who went on to catch 110 passes and 10 touchdowns. In 2007, the Deacons landed Devon Brown, who led the team in catches in 2009 and 2010, before transferring to West Virginia. Chris Givens and Terence Davis signed in 2008. Givens went on to be one of the best receivers in WFU history, and Davis showed promise before a knee injury took away some of his speed. Campanaro signed in 2009.
But at the same time, the misses were starting: Mike Williams, Jordan Williams, Quan Rucker, Matt James, Brandon Terry, and now possibly Airyn Willis and Sherman Ragland from the class of 2011. Willis hasn’t seen the field, and Ragland (who doesn’t have great hands, but who has been the best of the bunch) can’t stay on the field because of his off-field maturity issues.
So last season, when Givens left a year early and Davis hadn’t developed into a dominant player, the Deacons were left with a big hole opposite Campanaro. Those recruiting misses suddenly were front and center.
This season, after all the early problems, Grobe and Stubblefield have essentially jettisoned the older players: James, Terry, Willis and Ragland. The Deacons have turned to redshirt freshmen Jared Crump and Jonathan Williams and true freshman Tyree Harris. Crump and Harris are now the starters with Campanaro in the three-receiver set.
If Harris and Crump solve the problems on the outside, then Barbour may have a chance to compete with Orville Reynolds, who will be a senior, to replace Campanaro in the slot. At 5-9, 170 pounds with 4.45 speed, Barbour has the numbers. But the question at Wake Forest has been: Will he be able to hang on to the ball?