Camp Countdown: The Jay Venuto Movie
Jay Venuto
Jay Venuto

Jay Venuto's story of the 1979 season has all the stuff of a truly great sports movie. Venuto sat on the Wake Forest sideline for three seasons, patiently waiting for his opportunity to be a star. The redshirted quarterback was called into then-offensive-coordinator Mike Working's office during the spring of 1979 and presented the offensive stats from the spring scrimmages. Coach Working asked Venuto's opinion on who should be starting quarterback in the fall.

Venuto responded, "me."

So there you have it, the opening scenes of the Year of Venuto or whatever better sports movie title you can think of. What would follow is the dramatic game against the highly, highly favored Georgia Bulldogs where 57,000 fans in Athens watched in horror as the Bulldogs fell to the formerly 1-10 Deacons, led by Venuto, who connected on 20 passes and threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns.

Then there'd be a bit of conflict on the team as the Deacons dropped a game to N.C. State. But the team pulls it back together (since this is a sports movie there'd probably also be a musical montage of some sort right about now) and then the most dramatic part of Jay's story ensues. Venuto calls the plays as the Deacons overcome a 38-20 halftime deficit against nationally ranked Auburn. Coach John Mackovic even told his team seven words at halftime that would become the mantra for the season: "Never, never, never, never, never give up!"

And if that's not a line from a great sports movie, I don't know what is. But what happened to our 1979 star after the credits wrapped up and people cleared the theater? Here's a look at Venuto seven years later, after he'd just taken a coaching position with Al Groh.

Knock, Knock. Who's there? You know it's Venuto.

By Wilt Browning
Originally published 8/19/1986 in the Greensboro News and Record

WINSTON-SALEM - "Knock, knock," said Jay Venuto.

"Who's there?" Barbara Dery, assistant sports information director, responded.

 

 

"Jay."

"Okay," she said impatiently. "Jay who?"

"See," said Venuto, "nobody around here remembers me."

Al Groh, football coach at Wake Forest, remembers. It was Groh who added Venuto to his staff this season to coach Deacon quarterbacks.

Venuto will tell you the link he represents between the 1986 Deacons and one of the best football teams the school ever had is only coincidental. But it is there nonetheless. Venuto's name has a certain ring to it around here. It invokes a special memory.

One shining season.

One autumn to remember.

Venuto, then a junior, was one of a half dozen stars on Wake Forest's 1979 football team. A quarterback with a golden arm, it was Venuto who that season played one of the major roles in rewriting much of the Deacon record book for passing and total offense.

In the process, Wake Forest went 8-4 - only the second time this century that the Deacons had won that many - and lost to Louisiana State in a Tangerine Bowl game that marked the first time in 30 years a Wake Forest team had participated in post-season play.

It was a season of remarkable performances, not the least of which was that the Deacons had been 1-10 in each of the previous two seasons.

It was a season in which the Deacons, with Venuto calling the huddle to order, staged perhaps the most dramatic comeback in the history of Atlantic Coast Conference football.

"Old memories," said Venuto who had flings with the Baltimore Colts, New York Jets and Birmingham Stallions before moving into the coaching ranks.

"Something to tell my grandkids about some day. That's all behind me now. I even left my scrapbook and trophies at home in New Jersey with my mom and dad when I came back. I can't take those tings with me any more.

"I do have a couple of reels of old film from the 1979 season that I reel up every once in a while and the other coaches kid me about it.

"You can't help thinking about that year, though. But now, strangely, I think of it from the perspective of a coach. I have tried to analyze what happened to us that year, why a 1-10 team from the year before could turn it around like that. I spent a lot of time looking for the reasons."

And.

"And I have come to the conclusion that we had some great players who took charge that season. I mean, we had some great players. James McDouglad, Mark Lancaster, Syd Kitson, James Parker.

"Other teams have had great players, too. But these players rose to the occasion. These players decided that they were better than 1-10 and went out and did something about it.

"Coaching had something to do with it. But, look, these guys would have molded that team together no matter who the coach was."

"And now, as a coach, I guess I'm hoping that it will happen again, that we have some players this year who will take charge."

And now, the Deacons have as a coach the quarterback from that team to remind them how it used to be, someone who was there.

"Well, not really. It never comes up," Venuto said.

"The only time I've heard anything at all mentioned was when Coach Groh told the team a few days ago that we have a chance to break Wake Forest's total offense record. I wondered when he said that if he was talking about the 1979 team. I guess we still hold the records.

"But the thing about it is that most of these guys don't remember what we did that season. Maybe Mike (Elkins, scheduled to start at quarterback this year) does, because I'm pretty sure he was in the stands watching when we played North Carolina because Rod (Elkins) was the opposing quarterback.

"But most of the rest of these guys wouldn't remember. Most of them weren't much more than high school freshmen then if they were that. They weren't very interested in what we were doing back in '79, I expect."

Oh, then they'd like this joke. Ready?

Knock, knock.

You're supposed to say, "Who's there?" and I say, "Jay..."

Well. . . maybe you've heard it.

30 Day Camp Countdown Intro

Day 30: Wake Forest Football, 1889
Day 29: Assistant Coach Beattie Feathers
Day 28: Wake Forest in Japan, 1974
Day 25: Deacon History 101
Day 24: 'M' Non-Lettermen
Day 23: WF Stuns Undefeated Vols
Day 22: Larry Tearry's Poetry
Day 21: Bill Barnes Just Walked In
Day 18: John Mackovic, A Barberton Boy

 

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