August 2, 2006
WINSTON-SALEM -- Once again, Wake Forest football didn't get a lot of respect on media day, but the program is used to that by now. The ACC media picked the Demon Deacons to finish last in the Atlantic Division this fall.
Last year, Wake also was picked last, but it finished fourth, along with Maryland and N.C. State.
With the number of starters and experienced players returning, it's certainly possible to see Wake finishing at least fourth again. But considering the Deacons' history, it's not surprising that few writers would even know that.
With a weaker out-of-conference schedule, a bowl game is not out of the question. Steve Vallos, Wake's All-ACC tackle, said the experience issue is just as important as any talent gaps.
"This is Coach (Jim) Grobe's first full team that he recruited," Vallos said. "I think his redshirting practice is going to finally pay off this year, with experienced fifth-year guys that are team leaders. We have so many guys coming back with experience, and not as many redshirt freshmen and young guys are going to play, and I think that's what's really going to make the difference. These experienced players are going to put us over the top and give us a winning record."
For Grobe's sake, since he's been saying much the same for more than a year now, experience had better equal wins. If not, many will start questioning him.
In other football news, quarterback Allan Holland left the program to play at Eastern Kentucky, a Division I-AA program where he'll be eligible immediately. Holland, a sophomore, redshirted in 2004 and was a third-teamer last season. He threw one pass.
When Grobe recruited Holland, it was clear that he was signed more as an insurance policy than anything else. Holland was about to go to Eastern Kentucky then, but Grobe signed him to fill a gap in classes. At the time, Grobe praised Holland's big frame and throwing arm.
But that never translated into results, as Holland never could bring his football IQ high enough. As Grobe spoke last year when injuries where bothering his first two quarterbacks, it became clear that he had no confidence in Holland.
This spring, other young quarterbacks shined in the scrimmage, but Holland didn't do much. With redshirt freshmen Brett Hodges and Riley Skinner looking good, Holland could see the writing on the wall.
Meanwhile, new receivers coach Tim Billings shocked some with his blunt comments to a local newspaper. For starters, Billings indirectly ran down what previous coach Kevin Sherman (now at Virginia Tech) had done with the group.
"When I got here, the defensive backs kind of owned them," Billings said. He added: "That comes from being physical, working in the weight room and coming in and watching film. A lot of those things they hadn't done the way I expected them to be done. I raised their expectations toward those things."
In addition, Billings made clear his disappointment in some of his corps and gave them an ultimatum.
"I've got two or three on the edge, and they have to decide whether they want to be part of the rotation or not," Billings said. "This summer is important, because starting in the fall, they've got about two weeks to make their move. After that, I'm done. I'll give them two weeks, and if I don't feel they're in the mix, they can go over there and play scout team."
While most observers would echo Billings' comments, they're more direct than anything that's been said by the Grobe camp since Grobe arrived. It will be interesting to see if it continues.
In the spring, cornerback Alphonso Smith already had noted the change in attitude from both Billings and his receivers. He mentioned it several times after the scrimmage. Billings also is emphasizing blocking.
But Wake still doesn't have a lot of talent at receiver. Nate Morton, Willie Idlette, Kevin Marion and Kenneth Moore are in the rotation, according to Billings, but only Morton is a proven commodity. Sophomore Demir Boldin is ineligible this fall, and Delon Lowe, Jonathan Jones and Will Hollis all have been injured. The rest of the group is not overwhelming.
Billings may have to wait another year for an influx of talent, but his "toughness" program already is in place and showing some results.
BASKETBALL: ON PAUL, BAHAMAS TRIP
Several issues ago, we detailed some of the benefits Wake Forest was getting from local heroes Chris Paul and Josh Howard. Most were on the public-relations side, but Wake also is getting on-court and support benefits from Paul's return visits to his hometown.
Freshman point guard Ish Smith has been able to go up against Paul, and Paul has offered to be a mentor. Though one encounter left Smith with a busted lip, it would be difficult for him to find a better way to get seasoned than to face Paul, the NBA's rookie of the year.
"He's really helped me out already," Smith said. "I've got his phone number, so whenever I go through some tough times, I can pick up the phone and call him."
One byproduct of coach Skip Prosser's concentration on recruiting in North Carolina has been a tighter-knit group. Numerous Wake players are in the area, including former guard Taron Downey, another good player for Smith to model.
In other news, Prosser's move to take Wake to the Bahamas this season could prove to be a brilliant one.
Since Duke did it several years ago, more coaches have started to take advantage of an NCAA rule that gives them the ability to take a foreign trip every four years. But the trip is usually just the side benefit. The real benefit is the 10 extra days of practice, which coaches especially love if they have a young team.
Prosser faces a season with 11 freshmen and sophomores, so every moment of practice will be critical.
"I'm more excited about the 10 days in the gym, to be candid," Prosser said.