Deacons use spring to build depth

Wake Forest held its spring game with the goal of keeping veterans healthy and preparing its up-and-comers

Coby Davis, left, returns an interception during Wake Forest's spring game on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Wake Forest)

As the coach of a division championship team with many of its key elements returning, Dave Clawson had one simple goal for Wake Forest’s annual spring football game on Saturday.

Don’t get anybody hurt.

He took steps to ensure that result by instituting what amounted to a two-hand-touch format. He also limited star quarterback Sam Hartman’s participation to a cameo appearance.

Clawson accomplished what he set out to do by keeping everybody healthy, while also getting a few pleasant surprises along the way, as the Deacons completed their offseason practice with the White team defeating the Black 28-10 at Truist Field.

“We’ve got 20 starters back and we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football here,” Clawson said afterward. “To me, there was more to lose than to gain by going live with that group, but we also want them to get work. You only get 15 practices.

“When I think of some of those younger guys that haven’t played in games, for them to be able to play tackle football and let them make mistakes, that stuff is really important. They made some good plays out there, but there were a lot of things … that have to get cleaned up.”

The two offenses combined for 519 total yards and five touchdowns in the game, which was televised by ACC Network.

Hartman, who led Wake to a program record-tying 11 wins and a spot in the ACC Championship Game against Pittsburgh, completed only 6 of 14 passes for 56 yards before turning things over to a trio of young quarterbacks vying to become his backup and, eventually, his successor.

Redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr. had the best numbers among the group, going 12 of 14 for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Michael Kern, who has seen action in five games during his first two seasons with the Deacons, was 7 of 11 for 87 yards with a score and an interception, and Mitch Griffis was 5 of 14 for 53 yards.

The breakout stars of the game were a pair of redshirt freshmen — receiver Dez Williams and running back Zach Igwebe.

Williams, who caught only one pass last season — an eight-yarder in the season opener against Norfolk State — had seven receptions on Saturday, two of which went for touchdowns. Igwebe, also playing for the White team, was the game’s top rusher with 66 yards on 14 carries and a score.

The standout on defense was redshirt senior defensive back Coby Davis, whose third quarter interception and 21-yard return set up a score for the White team. He was also one of five Deacons to be credited with five or more tackles in the game.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Mark Balbis was the top tackler with eight.

Because of the format, the abundance of untested youngsters playing prominent roles and the fact that spring games are, in Clawson’s words, “a circus,” the Wake coach said Saturday’s game isn’t a true measuring stick for where his team stands heading into the fall.

But he did say that he was encouraged by the work his players put in over the course of their 15 official spring workouts.

“Instead of just a spring game, I think you evaluate the entire spring,” Clawson said. “I don’t think we wasted one practice and we are a better team now than when we started. Still, we are far from a finished product.”

Clawson said the primary goal in the lead-up to the 2022 season opener against VMI on Thursday night, Sept. 1 is developing depth — especially on a defense that was vastly improved last season.

“We’ve got some good guys back, but we lost some good players — guys like Luke Masterson, Traveon Redd, Nick Sciba and Zach Tom,” Clawson said. “When you lose All-ACC caliber players, there’s going to be holes. The big thing is how many players do we have over the line?

“You’d like to have about a total of 50, about 25 on offense, 25 on defense, and then five specialists. Before spring started, we were somewhere in the high 30s or low 40s, but I feel like now we’re in the mid-40s. We’ve got to get five or six more guys between now and the first game over the line to be playable. And we’re not there right now.”