While the Demon Deacons had some significant off-season losses in the wide receiver group, they also had a unique gain. Gone is 2022 leading receiver A.T. Perry. And longtime receiver’s coach Kevin Higgins has left the sideline for the front office. There is still plenty of talent in the receiver’s room. And maybe just as significantly, there is a new receivers’ coach in that room. So, it’s time to meet Wake Forest’s Ari Confesor.
If there are two things you need to know about him, it is this. His first name is pronounced Ah-dee. And the second thing is that whatever jokes or comments you may have about hiring a receiver’s coach from a service academy program that runs a non-throwing offense from the 1960’s…well, he’s heard it all already. He may even have said some of it himself.
The Road To Wake Forest
Confesor comes to Winston-Salem after four years as the receiver’s coach at the Air Force Academy. He was at Holy Cross, his alma mater, in 2018. His longest tenure was at Rhode Island from 2009-2017. He was everything from assistant defensive back’s coach to punt return coordinator to receiver’s coach.
He knows what people think of him coming from Air Force. In his four years there, the Falcons averaged 96 passing attempts per season. Wake averaged nearly five times that over the same period. In 2020, the leading receiver for Air Force was tight end Kyle Patterson. He had 205 total receiving yards on the season. Perry came close to that in single games twice in his career.
Confesor understands the head-scratching from some. He takes over a high-end receivers’ room having spent the last four years in a triple-option offense. Did any of his new players have the audacity to ask him what he was doing at Wake Forest? “Nobody said that to me yet, in terms of the players. They probably thought about it.” He added, “Maybe they were saying jokes behind my back, but they were good enough to not say anything to me because they knew I would have had a smart comment.”
His time at Air Force aside, the new coach does have the bona fides to talk pass-catching with any of his new players. In his senior year at Holy Cross, he racked up more than 1,200 receiving yards and 841 kick return yards. He is the all-time leading receiver in Crusaders history and was enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2019.
Confesor brings a youthful energy that belies someone who has 13 years of experience in the college coaching ranks already. At 40 years of age, he is still a youngster in the coaching profession. The accumulation of years that cause most coaches to become grizzled still lies ahead. Confesor still answers every question you have and gives you as much time as you need. The virtues of youth. He does so in a gravelly voice that is proof he is doing a lot of yelling during camp, with a lot of exuberance behind it. He has a job to do, selling his players, and himself, to the Wake fan base.
At the end of Spring camp, he repeatedly called the time, “Fun,” and wished there were more days in training mode. “I think those guys are looking at me like I’m crazy,” he said of his receivers unit.
The path of a coach making his way up the career hierarchy requires a lot of patience from the family and having a moving company on speed dial. His wife Katie and their three kids, (daughters Nora and Madalina, and son Camden) are still back in Colorado until the school year ends. Still, the call to come to Wake Forest was a compelling one for Confesor. “It’s everything that I have ever valued in terms of high academics.”
The Demon Deacon Draw
While that is common coaches speak regardless of age and experience, Confesor can back it up with his time at Holy Cross and the Air Force Academy. “The opportunity to come to Wake Forest and be a part of Coach Clawson’s staff, I mean, I was blown away.” He eagerly drew a correlation between the type of players he had at Air Force and what he is getting at Wake Forest. “You’re dealing with kids who value great education, value football, and care about each other. It’s not a place where it’s just football and they don’t value education or academics, or value education and academics and don’t value football.”
There is no history of Wake playing Air Force during Confesor’s years in Colorado Springs, so he had little working knowledge of the Demon Deacon receivers prior to coming to Winston-Salem in February. The learning curve had to kick in right away. “It’s a talented room. I think anybody can see that,” he said. “It’s a group that has been battle-proven, battle-tested, and has come out the other side better for it.”
His New Students
Two of Wake’s receivers knew what they were getting when Confesor was named the new position coach. He had recruited Taylor Morin and Ke’Shawn Williams when he was at Air Force. “When I saw them, I gave them a big hug, and said, ‘You guys remember me?’” He said the familiar faces on day one helped him relax a little bit. “I’m here for those guys. Obviously also the staff and the community and all that stuff. But those guys, first and foremost,” he told us. “I’m here to develop them on and off the field and give them the best chance to be successful in life.”
Early in Spring camp, receiver Jahmal Banks said Confesor came in at full speed. “We love Ari,” Banks said. “Ari came in with a chip on his shoulder, and he was ready to work. He’s teaching us some things with releases and just how to be a great receiver because he’s been there. He’s a hard worker.” After showing he had done his homework on his new position coach by reciting some of Confesor’s credentials, Banks said, “We love what he has brought to us and we are going to continue to embrace him as he embraces us.”
In terms of bringing in a coach from an offense that does not throw the ball much, Wake receiver Donavon Greene said during camp, “You’ve got to make it make sense. We know our staff is going to hire the best guy for us.”
Again With That Youth
Older coaches tend to do media interviews with a certain amount of tolerance that it is part of the job. Questions are entertained until they are not. Younger coaches either have a deer-in-the-headlights look of fear or get caught up in the coaching handbook of cliches. Confesor tells laughs throughout his anecdote-woven media time with an ease that says he both understands the task at hand and yet is still happy to be there.
Going back to when he got the call from Clawson about the Wake Forest job, Confesor recalled saying to himself, “Holy crap, if it ain’t this place, it’s no place. Then what am I doing? It was an unbelievable opportunity and my family and I were blown away.”
Since Spring camp did not go on in an endless loop as he had hoped, Confesor said the biggest thing he is looking forward to during the Summer is his new players meeting his family. “Then it will be complete.”