By Gray Gardner.
The Demon Deacons are looking to fair better than their 5-7 record from a year ago. Fans in Winston-Salem have grown accustomed to their team succeeding at a high level despite being deemed “Little Wake Forest.” This year the team loses its star quarterback along with many other key players from seasons past– players head coach Jim Grobe helped build his program upon.
There are big shoes left to fill for players who do not yet appear to be ready to fill them. But regardless of the uncertainty surrounding many positions on the team, starting center Russell Nenon believes the Deacs have what it takes to succeed this fall.
“I feel like we’ve proved ourselves the last couple of years and hopefully we’ll rebound from last season and do pretty well this year,” Nenon said.
Nenon is tabbed as the team’s anchor at offensive line this season. As a senior, he definitely feels pressured to win this fall. The 6’4” 295 lb. big man is looking to take his team to a bowl game this year after going home for Christmas a year ago. That time was, as Nenon put it, “one of the worst times of my entire life.”
In order to avoid the same feeling in 2010, the Deacon’s will have to find a way to replace the team’s starting quarterback from the previous 4 years, Riley Skinner. Redshirt junior Skylar Jones has been tabbed as the starter heading into summer workouts. But Jones played wide receiver during the 2009 season and saw his only action in a game against Elon. His lack of experience on the field, as well as at the quarterback position, will certainly not help the Demon Deacons this fall.
Jim Grobes has made a name for himself in the past for doing great things with lesser talent, as Russell Nenon noted.
“It’s impressive to see what he’s taken and where it is now,” Nenon said. “We’re competing week in and week out and have a great chance to win every week.”
Perhaps Grobes’ coaching magic will continue into the 2010 season. If so, consider it a miracle for a team that finished 3-5 in conference play and 4th in the Atlantic Division a year ago – even with its star players. If Grobes’ can take this team and succeed in 2010, he will have a great chance to rid the team of the title “Little Wake Forest” – a nickname that Russell Nenon said is undeserving.
“I mean we go out and play Florida State and we say, ‘These guys aren’t invincible – we can hold our own.’ We go play Miami and we know we can hold our own,” Nenon said. But despite their recent success on the gridiron, the name has remained.
“I still hear the term ‘Little Wake Forest’ a lot from any body who talks about Wake Forest football. But I wouldn’t quite say we’re the little man. Guys think that we’re a doormat game… I don’t think we’re quite a doormat.”
But the Demon Deacons cannot continue to look to past success, such as their 2006 ACC Championship season, as an argument for recent success. The past is the past, and unless the team finds a way to win this season, people around the country will continue to see the team as an underdog.
Nenon and the rest of the Demon Deacon offense will have a lot of work to do this fall if they hope to dissuade the nation from seeing Wake Forest as “just some little ACC school.” And according to Nenon, hard work is something that characterizes this team.
“I’m real excited about this team because we work hard but we understand that we have to earn everything that we get. It is going to be a challenge because we’re going to be breaking in a lot of new people so we just have to stay focused on what’s needed and hopefully come out winning.”
Wake Forest starts the first two games of the season at home against Presbyterian and Duke – two games that will serve the team well to break in younger players. The Demon Deacons will then face a brutal stretch in their schedule, playing five consecutive games against teams that played in a bowl game in 2009. Three of those five games will be on the road.
The success Wake Forest sees during this stretch will depend heavily on how soon inexperienced players like Skylar Jones can grow into their positions. If they’re not ready by this time, it is probably going to be another long season for the Demon Deacons.