WINSTON-SALEM – Wake Forest is pretty well-stocked along the interior of its defensive line and at linebacker, but injuries to starters at those positions led to some of the most interesting stories of the spring.
At defensive tackle, Wake will head into the fall with two junior starters, Boo Robinson (6-2, 326) and John Russell (6-3, 278). Last season, the two alternated with then-senior Zach Stukes.
Russell was 10th on the team in tackles with 34, including 3.5 for loss, four quarterback hurries (tied for the team lead) and two fumbles recovered. Robinson had 27 tackles, including eight for loss (third on the team) and four sacks.
Of course, Wake coach Jim Grobe loves depth, because one of his weapons against more talented teams is fresher legs. So while he already was looking for other players behind Robinson and Russell, that search took on extra urgency when Russell was lost for the spring because of shoulder surgery.
The list of players who stepped up featured a trio who had been written off for various reasons in their careers.
Michael Carter, a 6-3, 317-pound sophomore, had a strong spring after being suspended for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in January because of academic struggles. Grobe admitted that the staff wasn't sure whether Carter was going to understand what was required of him off the field.
"Mike Carter's had a great spring," Grobe said. "He's really done some good things. Mike's problem is academic. He's been lazy in the classroom.
"He's trying right now. The light's come on. I don't think he's even had any electricity in the house for the first year and a half. He's not asleep at the wheel any more. He realizes that he's got a chance. He's a good player."
Grobe also wondered about Ted Randolph, but more about his on-field activity. Randolph came in as a tight end, ranked 37th at that position nationally by Rivals.com in the 2005 class. It quickly became apparent to the coaches, however, that he wasn't going to find playing time there.
But Randolph held on to his dreams of becoming Jeremy Shockey, and he fought their suggestions to move. Finally, he embraced the switch to defense and had a strong spring at tackle.
Grobe often says that some players get more serious and realistic about their challenges and opportunities as they can see the end of their career approaching. He believes that helped Randolph focus. After a redshirt season and two years without playing time, Randolph just wanted to get onto the field.
Another former tight end was the final member of the trio: Dennis Godfrey. In 2006, Godfrey was a prize of Wake's recruiting class. He was pursued by most ACC schools, and Wake had to sweat down to signing day, especially after Godfrey asked them to allow him to visit other schools after committing.
Grobe was ecstatic at the time: "We have guys in our program that are primarily blockers and guys that are primarily receivers, but he's probably the one guy that runs, catches and blocks like you'd like a tight end to be able to. Dennis is probably the first guy coming out of high school that has the size, foot speed, the hands and athleticism to not only be a kid that could be a good blocker but could actually be a real go-to guy in throwing the football. He could see some early playing time."
Instead, in the summer of 2006, Godfrey found himself facing charges of rape, kidnapping, sexual offense and sexual battery after an incident at a family cookout.
Although Godfrey maintained his innocence, Wake did not enroll him in the fall. In January 2007, Godfrey's felony charges were dropped in exchange for a no-contest plea to simple assault and obstruction of justice. He did not admit guilt, but did admit that evidence existed that could lead to his conviction. He was placed on probation for a year and did community service. He then enrolled at Wake.
After a year of struggling with various injuries, Godfrey finally had some breakthroughs this spring. Now he may be ready to contribute in the fall, as a 6-3, 297-pound sophomore.
After a spring scrimmage, Grobe said it was good to see Godfrey show some joy on the field.
"It was fun watching Dennis, mainly because Dennis was having fun," Grobe said. "He started making some plays, and he got excited."
Interestingly, Wake is hoping that it will have another story to tell from a defensive tackle who was written off. The Deacons remain hopeful that Uriah Grant will be cleared academically by the fall. Grant was recruited in the 2007 class, passed two summer-school classes and was practicing with the team in August when he was declared ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
LOTS OF TALENT AT LINEBACKER
The Deacons are even stronger at linebacker than on the defensive line. Veteran starters Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic figure to form one of the ACC's better units.
But with sophomore Hunter Haynes out with an injury this spring, the fight for backup roles opened up. Two unfamiliar names – Lee Malchow and Jonathan Jones – inserted themselves, right alongside veterans Dominique Midgett and Matt Woodlief and redshirt freshmen Gelo Orange and Kyle Jarrett.
Malchow joined Wake Forest in 2006 as a preferred walk-on. In reality, that doesn't mean much, except that he would be admitted to the university. Malchow pays his own way and gets little other preferred treatment.
Out of high school, Malchow had only 185 pounds on his 6-5 frame. By this spring, he was over 230 and making an impact on the field. Last year, he played some special teams and got in on a few plays from scrimmage.
"Lee's one of those guys who came in and was really skinny as a rail," Grobe said. "We could see he could run, but he really just wasn't strong enough. He's worked really, really hard.
"He's put himself in a position now where he's competitive for playing time, and maybe significant playing time. I hate to say too much too soon, but he's impressed us, there's no question."
Jones once was supposed to be an answer for Wake at wide receiver. Rivals.com rated him the third-best receiver in Tennessee in the 2005 class. But after two years (including his redshirt season) of no action at receiver, Jones moved to safety last season.
He didn't play much at safety, but he showed a knack for defense. So Wake moved him to outside linebacker this spring. He's a little slight for that position at 6-3, 220, but he is quick.
"J.J.'s biggest deal is we've had him at too many places," Grobe said. "We've had him at wideout, and then we had him at safety, and now we've got him at outside linebacker. And the one that's probably hardest to play is the one he's at right now. So he's not had a lot of time at that position, but I would say we're pleased with where he is."