October 23, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM Jim Grobe's goal when he came to Wake Forest was not to become the best coach in school history. With all due respect to Peahead Walker, that goal wouldn't have been much of an aspiration.
Grobe's goal was to build a football program.
That sounds fairly simple, but this is Wake Forest, after all. Grobe faced a long losing tradition. Since the ACC started in 1953, only twice had Wake had consecutive seasons with winning records (1970-1971, 1987-1988). Grobe did it in his first two seasons, and he likely will do it again with 2006 and 2007.
In ACC competition, Wake had won three or more games 15 times. Grobe has done it in six of his first seven years.
For those not connected to the program, however, it was easy to look at last year as a fluke. Wake hadn't been on the national radar, despite Grobe's improvements. Then the Deacons lost their first two games this season.
But Grobe is proving that "Wake Forest football" is not a phrase that should bring laughter anymore.
Grobe has the Demon Deacons in position to challenge for a league title at best and go to a good bowl (Music City?) at worst. It would be the first time Wake would have been to a bowl in consecutive seasons.
It was easy to give credit to the "magic" of last year's season. This year is proving that it's more than magic. In fact, it's not difficult to see that this year could have been even better. Put the Boston College and Nebraska games in different spots on the schedule, and maybe Wake is fighting for an undefeated season.
If the Deacons were to play Nebraska now and with quarterback Riley Skinner healthy, they'd probably be favored. While they wouldn't be favored against BC, they lost by 10 with Skinner throwing two interceptions in the end zone before being hurt in the third quarter. In addition, Wake hadn't covered up its cornerback problems with Brandon Ghee yet, allowing Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan to feast on them.
So how long can this kind of success last at Wake Forest?
Grobe is taking care of the continuity by signing a long-term contract and keeping his assistants in place. Athletic director Ron Wellman is taking care of the facilities with improvements everywhere.
But what about the talent?
RECRUITING VITAL TO SUCCESS
After winning with Jim Caldwell's players when he arrived, Grobe slid slightly while he figured out the recruiting puzzle at Wake. Now it's easy to say that his last few classes have been his best. He's recruiting so that bad seasons will no longer be 2-10 but 5-6.
The true test of a "program" is to see if it can withstand the loss of a particularly good class. That will come next year for Grobe. If he's to keep the bowl trips coming, the Deacs will have to prove they can fill in some key losses.
On defense, Wake will return its secondary, linebackers and middle of the line. However, defensive end could be a major issue. If Matt Robinson can get a sixth year of eligibility because of his injuries, that will be lessened. But if he can't, both he and senior Jeremy Thompson will be gone.
Right now, the only returning ends are Anthony Davis and Antonio Wilson, and neither has shown much play-making ability. Look for freshman Kyle Wilber to play a role. He is 6-5 and athletic, and he received solid Division I-A attention coming out of Apopka, Fla.
In addition, Wake will have to decide if it's going to keep redshirt sophomore Ted Randolph at end. The Deacons moved Randolph there midway through this season in hopes of getting him on the field. Randolph, 6-5 and 278, came to Wake as a highly touted tight end from nearby Davie County. But questions about his attitude and toughness have helped keep him on the sidelines.
"We would like to find a place for Ted to play, because he's matured quite a bit," Grobe said. "He's become a more dependable guy. He was missing a lot of practice with injuries before, and as he's gotten older I think he realizes that (concerning) your value to the football team, you've got to have ability but probably dependability is more important.
"That's what older guys start to figure out pretty soon, that coaches like guys who are out there ringing the bell every day."
Also, Randolph refused a similar move last year.
"He came to us, and (now) he wants to get on the field," Grobe said. "It's amazing that when you get older, where you play doesn't matter anymore. You're trying to get on the field.
"It's a good thing. It's a sign of maturity. It shows the guy just wants to help the team, get on the field and have a chance to play a little. And that's what you want."
One would assume that Randolph will stay on defense, because Wake knew before it made the move that tight end will be one of the question marks on offense next year.
The Deacons will have to replace John Tereshinski and Zac Selmon, both seniors this fall. Without Randolph, redshirt sophomore Ben Wooster and freshman Cameron Ford will battle, and neither has ever caught a pass in college. Ford is fast for a tight end but will have to pick up Wake's blocking schemes.
The offensive line also will be a concern, as Steve Justice, Matt Brim and Louis Frazier will be gone. However, the line prospects are quite deep already, and freshman Doug Weaver will push for playing time.
WIDE RECEIVER: HELP WANTED
The biggest concern will be the same concern as this year: wide receiver.
The Deacons have struggled this season to find someone other than Kenny Moore. While Moore is certainly Wake's game-breaker on offense, the Deacs may not be able to force the ball to him so often in the passing game if they can't find other options.
In Wake's opener against Boston College, the Deacons threw to 10 players. Many of those players haven't been options since then.
Wideout Delon Lowe caught one and tailback Kevin Harris three, then none in the next six games. Selmon caught three, then three in the next six. Tailback Micah Andrews caught five, then six in the next six.
Other wide receivers are similar: Kevin Marion and Chip Brinkman had five catches each, then 19 combined in the next six.
Moore? He had 56 catches through seven games, compared to 20 for Tereshinski and 16 for Brinkman. Moore had 37 percent of all Wake catches and 68 percent of all the catches by Wake wide receivers. He had all four touchdowns by Wake wideouts.
For comparison, the next top receiver in the ACC Aaron Kelly of Clemson had 28 percent of his team's catches and 39 percent of all the catches for the team's wide receivers. Boston College had five receivers with 24 or more catches through seven games, compared to only Moore for Wake.
The only option to change the mix for 2007 is to get Demir Boldin more time. As a redshirt freshman, Boldin caught 15 balls for 14.9 yards per catch. Then he missed last year with academic problems and has come along slowly this season. Lately, he's replaced the stone-handed Marion in the lineup, but that playing time hasn't turned into results.
Brinkman is averaging only 5.7 yards per catch, so Wake either needs Marion to find his big-play skills again or for Boldin to become a factor.
Without Moore next year, the offense will need a star. Tailback Josh Adams may become that player, but if it's going to be a receiver, it's probably going to be a young one.
Brinkman and Boldin will return, as will Marshall Williams, who impressed in the spring. Williams is a burner (4.34 40) who also can return kicks. He's been bothered by a high ankle sprain since early in the fall and hasn't seen action.
Wake has three freshman receivers, and at least one will need to step forward, or it could be another year of limited options. Devon "Yloo" Brown was a prep running back, and Danny Dembry was a quarterback. Jordan Williams had 30 catches as a senior.
Grobe and receivers coach Tim Billings have their work cut out, both this year and next, if Wake is to develop another Moore to keep the program moving.