By Dave Glenn and staff ACC Sports Journal
October 28, 2002 WINSTON-SALEM Wake Forest entered this football season with the shakiest kicking situation in the ACC, and it likely cost the Deacons a victory in their season opener. As the Deacons lost in overtime to Northern Illinois, walk-on Matt Wisnosky missed two field goals and an extra point and left Jim Grobe so scared that the coach wouldn't call for a field goal or an extra point in the final minutes.
That loss could cost Wake Forest a bowl bid. One former player says it didn't necessarily have to be that way.
Chris Strappel, the only kicker recruited by the Deacons in the classes of 1999-2001, said he needlessly was forced to leave the program this fall. Strappel said he did everything the coaching staff asked him to do to recover from some problems during his freshman season. But instead of getting his scholarship reinstated, as he said he was promised, he apparently was told right before the season started that he'd never kick for the Deacons.
Strappel admits that he initially brought the problems on himself. Academic woes and other off-field problems led to him missing spring practice, and Wake pulling his scholarship. (Under NCAA rules, scholarships are renewable on an annual basis.) Strappel said he was never kicked off the team, though the equipment manager cleaned out his locker at some point after spring practice.
I went straight to Coach Grobe to find out what was going on, Strappel said. He said that there was just some confusion and told me not to worry about it.
Strappel headed into the summer determined to get back his scholarship, which he said was promised to him by Grobe and assistant Billy Mitchell, who coaches the kickers.
They said that if I did what I was supposed to do, it would be there, Strappel said. That came straight from Coach Grobe's mouth, with Coach Mitch in the room. It was something I heard from them many times.
Yet Strappel said he got a call from one of his tutors in the summer. According to Strappel, the tutor said: I've heard you're not coming back.
I had considered transferring, just because of the position I was put in, Strappel said. I didn't want to get screwed over.
But by that time Strappel had scrapped those thoughts. Immediately after the tutor's call, he called Mitchell, who he said assured him nothing was wrong.
Meanwhile, Wake had made punter/kicker Ryan Plackemeier a late addition to its 2002 recruiting class, and Strappel was left out of the program's 2002 media guide. He said his locker was accidentally cleaned out again right after he returned for the fall, and that he had a conversation in which Grobe told him, Honestly, I didn't think you'd be out here.
But in the first week of August, Grobe told the media: We'll let Strappel compete for the job. As fall practice progressed, Strappel said he was kicking almost as well as Wisnosky, even stepping into the No. 1 role during a stretch where Wisnosky was injured.
I knew I wasn't doing as well as I could, but compared to the others ... Strappel said. Some days I was kicking really well.
So he was shocked by what Mitchell had to say four days before Wake's first game.
He told me I wasn't performing up to expectations, Strappel said, and that I was never going to play for Wake Forest.
Strappel said he pressed for clarification, including asking whether he'd kick if Wisnosky and Plackemeier were hurt. He said Mitchell's response was: No, I'd put up signs around campus asking if anyone had kicked in high school.
Strappel said Mitchell started to tell him where he could transfer.
It was three days before classes started, Strappel said. How was I going to transfer? I told him I was staying to go to school. I feel like they made me do their dirty work by making me quit.
Publicly, Grobe said Strappel left on his own.
We were honest with him that we were going to go with Wisnosky, Grobe said. I think he felt that was not a good situation for him, so that's kind of how that turned out.
So Strappel is paying his own way to attend Wake Forest, an expensive private school, this semester.
I'm not going to quit football, he said. I'm looking at my options (for next year). This has been difficult to understand, but it's not going to ruin me. I'm in school, doing well, and this isn't going to stop me.
Strappel, a former all-state prep kicker in Florida, said he could have made a difference in the Deacons' opening loss.
I'm not a horrible kicker, he said. The team (the Wake coaches) have in their hands is a really, really great team. They shouldn't be in the situation they're in right now.