A New Bar For Wake Forest Football

A New Bar For Wake Forest Football
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The 2022 football season brings about a new era for Wake Forest football. How long the era lasts remains to be seen. But the season begins on the heels of a season more successful than any single year in recent memory. The Demon Deacons finished the season 11-3. They won the ACC Atlantic Division with a 7-1 record and won the Gator Bowl. But college sports is a “What have you done for me lately,” business. Head coach Dave Clawson recognizes that and says there is a new bar for Wake Forest football.

New Expectations

Clawson met with the media Wednesday ahead of the start of Spring camp on Thursday. He is coming off one of the most successful seasons in his 22 years as a head coach. Certainly, the results from last season were the best in his eight-year Wake Forest tenure, and by monumental numbers. Like any coach, he wants his players to exist in the moment as they get ready for the 2022 season. But in this case, he does so, while asking them to move past the most successful season the school has had since 2006.

Clawson said the theme for this year’s team is, “Mindset.” He knows that after being ranked in the final Top 20 poll in the country last year, the expectations are now different. “Now that we start to get some attention and accolades, we are who we are,” Clawson said. “We do things the way that we do them. And if we suddenly look at things differently because now people think on the outside that we’re good, that probably won’t end well for us.”

Buying Into The Message

Part of that challenge is getting a bunch of young men, most of whom engage on social media, not to buy into the pre-season hype that will surely come with a Top-25 ranking. “We’ll talk about it. We’ll address it. At the end of the day, they have to own it,” Clawson said. He said he is not trying to erase the good vibes that came with last year’s success but get the team to realize there is work to be done if they are to maintain it. “But if our mindset is that we are still caught in those moments, then we’re not going to grow and get better. I think the days that we sneak up on people are probably over. We are going to start getting better versions of our opponents.”

While attitude and mindset are a big priority for Clawson, there is much to be done on the field. It helps to have a returning field general like quarterback Sam Hartman. He put up the yards last year, throwing for 4,228. But his completion percentage needs to rise into the 60% neighborhood, and his interception numbers have got to drop significantly. While the Demon Deacons are returning nine of 11 starters, they are missing a fundamental part of last season’s success. Hartman is losing his All-American left tackle. Zach Tom graduated and will be in an NFL camp by Summer.

Filling Gaps

Je’Vionte Nash returns for a super senior season and the offensive line has plenty of returning experience.  It is who comes in behind them that is going to be key. “For our offensive line to stay at a high level, we need to build depth there,” Clawson said. “This is a really, really important Spring as we start to build depth at that position.”

Likewise, the defense returns nine starters. And those coming back have a new learning curve ahead of them as Brad Lambert returns to Winston-Salem as the new defensive coordinator. Lambert, new linebackers coach Glenn Spencer, and new safeties coach James Adams also met with the media Wednesday.

Fixes Needed On Defense

The Demon Deacons defense was 91st in the country in total defense last year. And the linebacker unit lost DJ Taylor and Luke Masterson. The two combined for more than 120 tackles last season. As Spencer has made his way over from the South Florida staff, he said the key to his unit, like the others, is depth. “There is a concern with depth at that position, with the amount of guys who have played quality reps, winnable reps,” Spencer said. He added that everyone, regardless of previous experience, is going to go into camp Thursday with a clean slate and have a chance to compete.

Lambert said he intends to bring back a style of defense where, “We want the guys to play fast. That is our deal. We want them to attack and play fast.”

This was a homecoming for Adams, who played at Wake Forest for two years, graduating in 2006. He said the development of the facilities and the growth of the athletic department caused him to need a GPS to get around upon his return. He said what he has seen from the off-season workouts was everyone, as a group, pushing themselves. “They rose to the challenge of a new coach and a new energy in the room,” Adams said Wednesday.

Raising The Bar

With success comes new expectations. Based on last year, and the return of several key starters, the only real question for the 2022 Wake Forest team is depth. As Clawson put it Wednesday, “The thing I am most excited about last year is I think now it sets a new bar, a new standard for Wake Forest football.” He added, “We want to take the success of last year and make our program permanently better.”