April 4, 2006
WINSTON-SALEM -- Wondering about Wake Forest's quarterback situation this year? Well, apparently, so is coach Jim Grobe.
Grobe was interviewed recently about junior Benjamin Mauk, and the coach's answers -- along with what he didn't say -- were revealing.
Mauk is the incumbent, the only quarterback with playing experience at the ACC level. But so far he hasn't lived up to the hype of his record-setting prep career, and Grobe benched him last year by doing something awkward, bringing a player (Cory Randolph) back from the wide receiver position.
In his early spring comments this year, Grobe never came out and said the things you'd want to hear about a player who will take charge of the offense.
Instead, Grobe talked about what had happened to Mauk and what Mauk had to do, but he never talked about Mauk as if he was ready to step up or have a break-out season. He still sounded unsure about what Mauk would give him. In fact, he went so far as to leave the door open to other options, something you never would hear a coach say about someone he believes is firmly established.
"We would feel like things are going the way they're supposed to if Ben's the guy," Grobe said. "If Ben's not the guy, though, then we've got to move on."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Grobe is not typically one to downplay a reliable player, and Mauk is not the type who has a reputation for needing to be motivated. So Grobe's comments should be taken seriously.
The other problem? Grobe really doesn't have anyone else in the program who's ready to be a starting quarterback.
BUILDING ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Grobe has been in a "program-building" mode for so much of his career that he knows a lot of tricks of that particular trade. He recently talked about the impact of a couple of them on Wake's recruiting.
When trying to build at a place that doesn't have tradition, you need players who have their own tradition. Grobe said that Wake has attempted to target players who come from winning high school programs.
"What you would like to do in really every case is bring in kids who are used to winning and who are used to playing in playoff games and for championships, because they don't come in with any preconceived notions about what should happen at Wake Forest," he said. "They come in relying totally on their background.
"There's not a lot of tradition here from a football standpoint. It's spread out. It's few and far between. It's not consistently really good.
"What happens is when you bring kids in from the high school level who have been very successful, they expect to be successful. They're not looking at the Wake Forest past, they're looking at the future, and they're drawing on what they did in high school to take them through."
The second area is building relationships with coaches through consistency. Grobe has made only two staff changes as he enters his sixth season at Wake. He believes that having the same coaches on the recruiting trail makes a difference.
"When you bump into the high school coaches, you'd never know that our record was 4-7," Grobe said. "You'd think we won the Super Bowl. They watch us play, they like to watch our kids play, and they tell their players that they think they'll have fun playing football for us. We've gotten to know them over the years, and they feel good about their kids playing for us, which has helped a lot."
Assistant coach Ray McCartney, who heads up Wake's recruiting efforts, said all of the coaches like being able to go back to the same places in the state or around the country.
"Your credibility is increased in those areas," McCartney said, "and then when those kids start playing for you and you continue to recruit in that area, it's invaluable."
For example, Wake signed players in February such as quarterback Zach McDowell, who attended Jonathan Abbate's high school in Georgia, and lineman Cannon Gaskin, who followed former schoolmates Riley Skinner and John Russell from Florida.
Grobe said that particular concept also carries over to in-state recruiting, where the coaches have even closer relationships. They have more opportunities to cross paths, such as at camps and clinics.
"We've gotten to the point now where the in-state coaches feel pretty good about us," Grobe said. "Our reputation for being competitive and for being a program that will go tee it up on Saturday has really helped us a lot. We've gotten to know the coaches a lot better."
McCartney said the situation is so familiar that most of the Wake coaches are just known by their nicknames when they visit in-state schools.
"Coach Grobe does such a great job of maintaining the continuity of his staff," McCartney said. "We go to the same schools year after year, same coaches. We know these guys. If you get to know the people in your area -- who you can trust, who might exaggerate a little bit -- it's a tremendous aid in the recruiting process."
EARLY SCHEDULE: HUGE OPPORTUNITY
While spring is all about examining depth charts, one thing about the upcoming season can get forgotten: the schedule.
Wake's schedule sets up as nicely as any during Grobe's run in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons even could be favored in their first five games.
The Deacons will open at home against Syracuse and Duke, two programs that finished 1-10 last season. Wake's toughest game in the first five may be at Connecticut, which finished 5-6 in 2005 and was hit with some big personnel losses. After UConn, Wake will travel to Ole Miss, a rebuilding program that was 2-9 last year. The five-game stretch concludes with Division I-AA Liberty, which finished 1-10 in 2005.
Things obviously will get more difficult after that. Wake will have three games against teams that probably will open in the Top 25: Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The toss-up games will be against N.C. State, North Carolina, Boston College and Maryland. Of those four, only BC will be a home game.
So Wake really needs to come out of the first five games at least 4-1 to help set up the rest of the season.
Last fall, the Demon Deacons thought much the same thing, with Vanderbilt, Nebraska, East Carolina and Maryland as their first four. Instead, the young Deacs started 1-3 and never completely recovered.