WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. One decade ago, Wake Forest shocked the college football world, going 11-3 and winning an ACC title en route to an Orange Bowl berth.
The Demon Deacons lost just two conference games during their magical season.Unfortunately, success wasn’t sustainable for Jim Grobe, who only led the team to two more winning seasons before he resigned.
Dave Clawson was hired to pick up the pieces, a task that has been as grueling as he expected.
“I knew exactly what I was getting into,” Clawson said. “It was never presented any other way. Here’s the roster, here’s who graduated, here’s who left the program, these are the issues with your numbers. We knew when we got there this was going to be a process.
“I think it’s the experience of having done it three other times that let’s you not panic.”
Clawson has only six wins over two seasons in Winston, but he also has a wealth of experience when it comes to rebuilding programs.
His first head coaching job was with Fordham, who finished 0-11 in his first season. In 2001 he broke Fordham’s stretch of 12-straight losing seasons with a 7-4 campaign, before following it up with 10-3 and 9-3 marks in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
In his next stop at Richmond, Clawson accomplished a similar feat, going 9-4 in his second season and ending Richmond’s five-year playoff drought. Not a bad follow-up to a 3-8 mark in his first season with the Spiders.
During Clawson’s first year in 2014, Wake had just 46 scholarship players on the sidelines. Entering his third season, the Deacs now carry 85 scholarships and are dealing with far less attrition than in years past.It’s been a slow process, but Wake heads into this season with hopes of making waves in the tough Atlantic Division. When asked if Clawson believes he’s carrying his best team into the season, by far and away.
“Yes, and it’s not even close,” Clawson said. “Of the three teams that we’ve had since we’ve been here, it’s not even close with the strength, the speed, the experience level, the knowledge of the system, the depth, the internal competition.
“We’re in this together. We’re in this for the long haul.”
That attitude has trickled down to his players. Marquel Lee, a senior linebacker, sees tangible differences in the program under Clawson’s leadership.
“He’s brought so much more excitement around this program since day one,” Lee said of Clawson. “I mean, he helped get us an indoor facility that is one of a kind. When that opened, it told us as players that somebody really cares about us as a program. Why can’t we repay them with wins?”
That indoor facility is a behemoth. Housing a 1,500 square foot meeting room, a 3,500 square foot locker room with a players’ lounge and three football fields one is turf to give the feel of playing at BB&T Field Wake’s practice facilities are now on par or better than any team in the ACC.
While the new facilities are a clear indication of the backing the program has, the wins must come. Coming off a year where the roster was dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Clawson has a more experienced team heading into the fall.
However, getting young players to buy into his system hasn’t always been an easy process.
“It’s hard because we’ve put a lot into it,” Clawson said. “In this business, the high of winning is balanced by the low of losing. There’s no grey area in football. But that’s where, when you’re building a program, you point out to the players the small victories. … Eventually that improvement means more wins. But you don’t just go from three to 12 wins. There’s steps in between.”
Replicating the success of the 2006 team is ultimately the goal for Wake. Clawson and his players believe getting back to the top of the ACC is an attainable goal. Maybe not this year, but in the years to come.
For now, Lee is focused on the old adage of, “one game at a time” heading into his senior year.”Our main goal right now is to beat Tulane,” Lee said. “We can’t lose sight of that in the process of thinking about where we want to be. … Coach Clawson always preaches about ‘the process.’ That process has to manifest itself this year. There’s no excuse why we shouldn’t be a bowl team this year.”