It was no mystery how Wake Forest won seven games last year. It did it with defense. And though the Demon Deacons lose just seven starters off of last year’s 7-6 team, five come on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re certainly having to replace some pretty good players on defense that helped us play at a high level the last couple of years,” Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said. “So we need some young guys to step up on that side of the ball and continue to develop playmakers on the offensive side of the ball so we can make more explosive plays and score more points.”
Of those departed, the Deacs have to replace linebacker and leading tackler Marquel Lee, who had 105 tackles last season, including a 20 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. They also lose players such as Thomas Brown and Josh Banks, who were a one-two punch at defensive tackle and linebacker.
On offense, Wake loses left guard Ty Hayworth and center Josh Harris who both accumulated over 30 starts in their careers with the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest returns talent on both sides of the ball with a total of 17 starters.
“We had a very productive spring,” Clawson said. “For the first since we’ve been here, we’re starting to get experienced and have a lot more fourth-year juniors, third-year sophomores, young guys that have played a lot of football for us that are starting to get older and have a lot of game experience.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Wake brings back safety Jessie Bates. He had an incredible season last year with 100 tackles and 5 interceptions, two of which led to touchdowns. He was one of the most dominant safeties in the NCAA last season. To go along with Bates they also return three starters on the defensive line in Wendell Dunn, Chris Stuart and defensive end Duke Ejiofor.
Ejiofor led the defensive line last year with 50 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
With Stuart returning at the starting nose tackle position, there has been a battle for the other defensive tackle spot between Willie Yarbary, Elontae, Bateman and Sulaiman Kamara.
The biggest spot needing to be filled in the linebacking core is in the middle. With Lee moving on, the spot has been open to Grant Dawson and Nate Mays.
The second corner spot has been a battle between Essang Bassey and Thomas Dillion. The last open position, the free safety spot, has seemed to be taken by Cameron Glenn with Lukas Masterson giving chase.
Offensively, they return starting quarterback John Wolford and all three of his starting receivers, as well as All-ACC tight end Cam Serigne.
Starting running back Cade Carney returns as well after a season in which he ran for 589 yards and six touchdowns.
While Wolford started last season at quarterback, it looks as if Kendall Hinton will take back over under center for this upcoming season. Don’t count Wolford out, however.
On the offensive line, Patrick Osterhage, A’Lique Terry, Jake Benzinger and Nate Gilliam have all been competing for the two open positions. It has been a good battle on the line with no decisions being made. There is not much competition in the receiving core, with the veterans all returning.
It is the same at the running back position with both leading rushers Cade Carney and Matt Colburn taking most of the reps. Arkeem Byrd, Isaiah Robinson and early enrollee Christian Beal have also been getting some reps.