Young Wake Forest football team must grow up in a hurry
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest is going to have to grow up in a hurry.
The Demon Deacons have one of the youngest rosters in the country, with only five players in their fifth season at the school.
That makes for quite a challenge at a self-described developmental program that rarely gets the blue-chip recruits but is at its best when it's patient with its best players and allows them to grow into productive redshirt seniors.
Heading into coach Dave Clawson's second season, sophomore quarterback John Wolford says the Demon Deacons refuse to use their youth as an excuse.
''We can't wait for our guys to get old two years from now,'' Wolford said. ''We've got to try it now. It's hard to do because we've got a bunch of young guys. It takes leadership and a switch has to turn in some young guys to be mature.''
Expectations are once again low for the Demon Deacons, who for the second straight year were picked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division. That's also where they wound up in Clawson's debut season in 2014, after their 3-8 finish included a 1-7 mark in league play.
It doesn't make things any easier that they're in the same division with powers Clemson and Florida State. Or that their permanent crossover game is against a Duke team in the midst of the best three-year run in program history.
With 76 players who are either freshmen or sophomores, the Demon Deacons have confidence that they're building to a point where they'll once again be more competitive with those schools. They redshirted 15 players last season, including five on the offensive line,
That's why Clawson that day might come sooner than the outsiders might expect.
''They're talented. They're good, young players,'' Clawson said of all those freshmen and sophomores. ''They're going to have a chance to play earlier than maybe at most places because of where we are development-wise. But I'm excited what they're going to do. I have no doubt in my mind that we have really good, legitimate ACC players in our football program right now.''
Some things to know about Clawson's second season:
NEW FACES: The Demon Deacons hope three graduate transfers can bring a quick infusion of leadership and experience. Receiver K.J. Brent came from South Carolina, where he caught 14 passes in three years. Defensive backs Zach Dancel (Maryland) and Devin Gaulden (Wisconsin) will help fill a huge hole in the secondary left by Houston Texans first-round pick Kevin Johnson.
YOUNG OFFENSE: Wake Forest had the nation's worst offense last season, averaging just 216 total yards, and its rushing offense was the second-worst in the Bowl Subdivision. Clawson says a handful of freshmen could start on offense this year but ''they've got to play like veterans if we're going to take that step this year.''
THE KINAL COUNT: Wake Forest can boast one of the nation's best punters in redshirt senior Alex Kinal, a former Australian rules football player who earned all-ACC second team honors last season. He averaged nearly 44 yards per punt with zero touchbacks on 81 punts last season. Naturally, he hopes he isn't needed nearly as often this year - because that would mean the Demon Deacons' offense is putting up points. Quipped Kinal: ''I'd prefer to sit on the bench all season.''
DREAM WEAVER: The Demon Deacons are optimistic about another specialist, kicker Mike Weaver. He kicked two field goals after regulation in the highlight of last season, a 6-3 double-overtime victory over Virginia Tech, and converted a 54-yarder during a recent scrimmage that would have been a school record had it come during a game.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Wake Forest has a chance to build some early momentum with a September schedule that includes home games against Elon and Indiana and visits to Syracuse and Army. Their final eight games come against bowl teams from 2014 - including a season-ending gauntlet against Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke.
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