Demon Deacons confident despite loss of Sam Hartman

The record-setting quarterback is sidelined with an undisclosed medical condition

Coach Dave Clawson said the expectations for the Wake Forest football team have not changed despite the unexpected absense of star quarterback Sam Hartman. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

This is why people knock on wood.

Early in fall camp, Wake Forest offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero was asked about the team’s quarterback depth and had praise for redshirt freshman Mitch Griffis.

“Mitch has really come along and is really feeling comfortable,” he said. “When you’re going up against the threes, it’s not the same. Once you move up, it moves a lot faster.”

Ruggiero was referring to Griffis moving up to the backup role after sharing that spot with then-freshman Michael Kern last season. Little did he know that just one day later, Griffis would be making a much steeper jump.

On Aug. 10, Wake Forest released a cryptic statement announcing that quarterback Sam Hartman would be out for the foreseeable future. One of the most experienced and most productive passers in an Atlantic Division filled with returning starters, Hartman was ruled out due to an undisclosed medical condition.

The program didn’t elaborate on the issue, saying only that it was “unrelated to football” and that Hartman would miss “an extended period of time.”

“Tuesday was a frustrating day, but I am extremely grateful for our medical staff and for Dr. Chris Miles and Niles Fleet for staying with me throughout this process,” Hartman said in a statement. “I look forward to attacking this rehabilitation process and I am so appreciative of the support I have received from my family, teammates and coaches.”

After Hartman appeared at practice that day, apparently in good spirits and moving around without any noticeable pain anywhere, Twitter doctors speculated that he’d suffered everything from appendicitis to blood clots.

After practice, head coach Dave Clawson added more details but didn’t shed much more light on the situation.

“He had a medical procedure that was non-football related,” he said. “We expect him to be back, but it’s too early to tell exactly what that timeline is.”

Of the specific ailment, Clawson said only, “It’s something that could happen to any one of us … something that came up a little unexpected.”

Whatever sidelined Hartman, the fact of the matter is that Wake Forest will likely be starting its season without the 23-year-old sixth-year quarterback who passed for 39 touchdowns and 4,228 yards last season, both school records. He already holds the Demon Deacons’ career record for scoring passes and stood a good chance of breaking the school yardage record early this season.

Until Hartman returns, the team is in the hands of Griffis, who arrived at Wake as a three-star recruit in 2020. He’s appeared in four games each of the last two seasons, mostly in mop-up duty at the end of blowouts. He’s 4 of 15 for 56 yards in his college career and threw two passes — both incompletions — last season.

Behind him is Kern, a redshirt sophomore in his fourth year with the program. He was also a three-star when he came to Wake in 2019 and has eight games of experience, throwing for 370 yards on 21-of-38 passing. Both quarterbacks earned praise from Clawson after leading long drives in the spring game earlier this year.

The head coach doesn’t seem to have any concerns about either quarterback getting the keys to the offense.

“It impacts our expectations in no single way,” he said on the day the Hartman news broke. “Not at all. I don’t expect our team to be any less successful because of this. Not one guy on the field feels that way. That’s not coach speak — I mean that. We can win a lot of games with those two guys. We can beat good teams with those guys.”

After the team’s first preseason scrimmage, which was dominated by the defense, Clawson remained high on his quarterbacks.

“I would say the (first) practice where Sam was out, he was a little bit shaky,” he said of Griffis. “But he was throwing darts and BBs. He’s going to be fine. The moment won’t be too big for him. … It was his first time with those guys, and we just have to load him with reps the next two to three weeks.”

Wake has plenty of experienced talent on offense. They all just need to get acquainted with Griffis, and vice versa.

“Even though he’s going into his third year, he doesn’t have the accumulation of reps throwing to (the starters),” Clawson said. “He’s run the plays, but he’s been throwing to (backups). The timing of the back shoulder fade, where the post is going, he’ll get there. We just need to rep him.

“We’ve got an experienced offensive line, really good running backs. A great tight end, good skill, an improved defense. It’s never a good thing, but we’re far better prepared to handle this than at any point during my time here.”

Knock on wood.