Is There A Culture Shift At Wake Forest?

Culture Shift At Wake Forest
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The Demon Deacons are coming off a season of historic success. So, there are new hills to climb in 2022, right? New goals and higher expectations from everyone is the order of business now. Or was 2021 a one-off? Is head coach Dave Clawson right? Will the media and others still put Wake Forest near the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division because that is where they usually rank them? Is there a culture shift at Wake Forest? And if so, when will we know?

Is There A Culture Shift At Wake Forest?

In 2021, the ACC media picked Wake Forest to finish fifth out of seven teams in the Atlantic Division in its pre-season poll. Of course, the Demon Deacons won the Atlantic and went on to an 11-3 season, winning the Gator Bowl in the process.

With so many starters returning from last year’s high-powered offense, Wake Forest will be one of the top vote getters from the ACC media this pre-season, right? We’ll see. The order of finish from the ballots will be revealed on Tuesday. But Clawson does not have high expectations for how others view his team. “Every year we come to these media days and people have low expectations of us, and we never let that dictate how we went about our weekly process or our preparation.”

A Rallying Point

If it sounds like Clawson is bothered by the lack of faith in his team by outsiders, don’t be fooled. He uses the lack of voter support as a rallying point for his players. Case in point is defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd. He enters his fifth season at Wake with full knowledge of where the program was, where it is now, and who is noticing. “I’m not a big fan of getting preseason ranks and being ranked really high because I like to play as an underdog because you play with a chip on your shoulder.”

Fifth year quarterback Sam Hartman agreed that the team feeds off the world outside of the program not giving Wake its due. “We enjoy not being the bell of the ball,” he said at ACC Kickoff last week. “We enjoy kind of walking around in the background.”

wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman addresses the media at #ACCkickoff in Charlotte, NC last week. Photo courtesy Jaylynn Nash LLC/ACC

Hartman said there is a culture shift at Wake Forest and credits Clawson with creating it. “His day in and day out consistency,” is what he listed as the primary factor in the culture change at least with regards to internal expectations. He also said, “He is the same person in every interview, every day of practice, every game.”

Both Hartman and Clawson said part of the evidence of a culture shift is the amount of attention they got at their press conference at ACC media days in Charlotte last week. Unlike previous years, they both had a full crowd around their tables at the individual press gaggles.

Consistency Is The Word

If the media does elevate Wake Forest with higher pre-season expectations this season, it will be because of the consistency and continuity that Hartman spoke of. The team is running on more than five years with no changes in personnel or assignments on the offensive coaching staff.

But a look at the roster for the last two seasons also shows little turnover in personnel. For the second consecutive year Wake will open the season with one of the most in-house experienced teams in the conference. It is a rarity in the day of the transfer portal. Center Michael Jurgens is also entering his fifth year. He sees the consistency with both the staff and the roster as a big deal. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate going into my third year starting I’ve had the same two guards next to me every single game. That’s just — that doesn’t happen a lot in college football or in football in general. It’s been great. Hopefully that continues.”

Wake Forest center Michael Jurgens at #ACCkickoff in Charlotte, NC. Photo courtesy Jaylynn Nash LLC/ACC

Last season’s theme from Clawson was going from good to great. Wake had a great season. But being a great team means not being a one-season flash in the pan. So Clawson has made this year’s theme, “Mindset.” Starting in Spring camp, he focused on putting the 2021 season behind them and working on that consistency that Hartman talked about.

“I think that mindset for us is consistency,” Hartman said. “I think from myself pushing the offense this year, especially in the summer, will be how can we be in our performance. Last year we pushed ourselves as hard as we could and ended up coming a little short at the end of the year. But I think that we have other steps.”

Is Anyone Noticing?

Hartman also said the view of Wake should be different on and off the field. “We went to Wake Forest. We’ve changed the culture, like was asked earlier. The culture used to be, it’s a great school, you must be smart because you go there, but now it’s because you are a good football player who is also pretty smart.”

“As Coach said, it’s just mindset this year and not getting complacent with the fact that we had a good season last year,” Bothroyd said last week. “And just getting guys on board and not — obviously, not getting complacent but getting guys on board to want to be better and want to not only just go to the ACC Championship, but a national championship is everybody’s goal.”

Not many are going to look at the Demon Deacons in the that national championship conversation. At least not until they put together multiple seasons similar to 2021. That is fine with Hartman. “Preseason rankings, whatever. Hope they rank us 12th or 13th, 14th, 15th. Maybe they don’t put us on there. That would be nice because that’s where we live.”

We will see in the coming days and weeks if the cultural shift has been noticed on a larger scale outside of Winston-Salem.