Aug. 1, 1997
Demon Deacon Fortunes Looking Up in 1997
With 42 lettermen, including 17 starters, returning for the 1997 season, the Wake Forest football outlook appears promising indeed as the Demon Deacons enter their fifth year under head coach Jim Caldwell.
The Deacons are coming off a 3-8 season in 1996, a two-game improvement over 1995's 1-10 mark. Their past year opened in glowing fashion with two wins, including a September victory over Northwestern which was the first WFU win over a nationally ranked opponent since 1979. Caldwell's squad dropped seven contests in a row after that exciting start, however, before registering its only ACC "W" over Duke.
If Wake is to maintain its upward direction and make greater improvement in its won-lost mark, it will do so with what is another youthful team. Of the 17 returning starters, only six will be seniors in '97. In fact, there are just 13 scholarship seniors on the entire Deacon roster.
Another key factor in the development of the 1997 club involves the coaching staff and some offseason changes in personnel and responsibilities there. Both the Wake Forest defensive and offensive units have new coordinators as they prepare for the upcoming campaign, although neither coach is a newcomer to the staff.
James Bell, last year's defensive backfield coach, has taken over as defensive coordinator replacing Chris Allen. Bell has served successfully in a coordinator's role earlier in his career, including in his previous position at North Texas where he helped that school to a Southland Conference championship.
Hank Small, the WFU running back coach the past two seasons, is the new offensive coordinator. As head coach at Lehigh from 1986 to 1993, Small directed an offense that annually ranked among the national leaders in passing and total offense. He fills the role formerly held by Jan Quarless, who was named head coach at Southern Illinois in December.
Two new coaches are also joining the Deacon leadership corps this spring, both bringing a great deal of experience to the staff. Mel Foels, an assistant at Maryland the past six years, is the new linebackers coach, while George Belu, the offensive coordinator at Indiana for 13 seasons, is now in charge of the offensive line.
"With two new coordinators and two new assistants on the staff, there was some getting accustomed to one another this spring," Caldwell says. "We have made some adjustments to our defensive schemes and James Bell has brought a new dimension to our overall defensive package. Offensively, there has been some adjusting as well, but Hank has a real good feel for offensive football and we're excited about what George can do with our line as we continue to emphasize improvement in our running game.
"We have had a tremendous offseason. The effort, attitude and commitment level of our players has been outstanding. They have accepted the challenge we have given them and worked extremely hard.
"I can see that a number of them already have benefited from our winter strength program. I know that we're a quicker, much more responsive team in terms of speed and agility. We're looking forward to utilizing our improvement in those individual areas as we work toward 1997."
Wake Forest had one of the top passing games in the ACC last fall, and nearly every component in that particular phase of the Deacon operation is back. In fact, most preseason publications are touting the Wake receiving corps as among the best in the nation.
Leading the way are wide receivers DESMOND CLARK (6'3,238,Jr) and THABITI DAVIS (6'3,207,Sr), who ranked second and third respectively in receiving in the conference in 1996. Clark had 61 receptions for 782 yards and six touchdowns; Davis totaled 60 catches for 792 yards and three scores.
That duo also combined for five games with more than 100 yards in receptions (3 by Clark, 2 by Davis), at least one of them reached the endzone in over half the Deacs' 1996 outings. Both are already ranked among the school's all-time top 20 pass receivers--a list that they will undoubtedly ascend each week during the upcoming campaign.
JAMMIE DEESE (6'0,172,So) is a promising young receiver who caught 30 passes in 1996 and should have a greater impact this fall. He finished the year in particularly strong fashion with 19 catches in the last four games. KAI SNEAD (5'9,189), who snagged a 75-yard touchdown pass at Georgia Tech last fall, and another experienced wideout BRANDON PERRY (6'1,195,Jr) bring quality depth to this area.
At tight end, JOE ZELENKA (6'5,266,Jr) returns after starting nine contests last fall. Two talented young players are also likely to see action there--JAMES LIK (6'6,229,So), who lettered in '96, and WILLIE LAM (6'4,162,So), one of the most-improved blockers on the entire offensive front.
Throwing the ball to the Deacs' array of talented receivers will be quarterback BRIAN KUKLICK (6'3,198, Jr), the ACC total offense leader in 1996 at 223.1 yards per game. Kuklick started all 11 games last fall, completing 52% of his passes (205 of 396) for 2,526 yards and 11 TDs with 13 interceptions. If he can reduce that final number (interceptions), which the coaching staff is confident he will do, he figures to be one of the finest at his position in the ACC this autumn.
Kuklick had two 300-yard performances in 1997 (App State and N.C. State) and two others that just missed that impressive figure (299 yards vs Duke; 298 vs Navy). He also demonstrated his outstanding leadership when given the opportunity to win two contests, guiding the Deacons to fourth-quarter comeback victories over Northwestern and Duke.
The offensive unit also has a talented young signal-caller working behind Kuklick in BEN SANKEY (6'2,208,So). The Chicago product saw action in five games as a redshirt freshman and impresses his teammates and coaches on an almost daily basis with his athleticism and skills.
Two other youngsters--sophomore DAN BRADLEY (6'5,234) and redshirt freshman MIKE KOCH (6'2,209) will likely be in reserve roles at quarterback this fall.
When the Deacon offense keeps the ball on the ground, it will likely look to MORGAN KANE (6'1,216,So) to do a great deal of the leg work. The speedy back displayed flashes of promise a year ago with 131 yards rushing against Clemson and an 80-yard touchdown burst through the Florida State defensive unit. He also showed that he could serve as a weapon in the passing game, catching 16 passes in limited duty in that capacity.
Seniors HERMAN LEWIS (5'8,185) and MYLES SAVAGE (5'7,178) both have ample practice experience and are likely to contribute in the backfield as well. Lewis is a threat as a receiver or any time he can get the ball in the open field. Savage figures to again be a major part of the Deacon kickoff return unit where his speed and elusiveness are definite assets.
Two younger backs may see quality playing time depending upon their progress in preseason camp. KITO GARY (6'1,199,So) has yet to display the outstanding speed that made him such a highly prized prospect two years ago, but that chance could come this fall. CHRIS McCOY (5'7,211,rFr) has a different physical build and running style, but can be similarly effective.
The fullback position has WANDE' SHAW (6'1,234,Jr) returning in the first-string role, but he missed spring drills for academic reasons. Shaw's absence gave veteran CHAD ALEXANDER (6'2,234,Sr), who switched to fullback from defensive end during the offseason, the opportunity to showcase both his blocking and pass receiving abilities. Alexander took full advantage of that chance and will push Shaw for playing time.
Of course a solid offensive line will be required for the Deacon attack to operate effectively through the air or on the ground and this is somewhat of a rebuilding area in 1997.
Three starters return up front for the Deacs--center CHRIS GASKELL (6'4,285,Sr) and tackles JEFF FLOWE (6'6,307,Jr) and BRIAN WOLVERTON (6'5,290,So). Of that trio, Gaskell is the lone senior, and he only moved into a fulltime starting spot at the midseason point of 1996. Flowe started all 11 dates last fall but missed most of spring workouts with a knee problem. Wolverton is still young and learning, although he gained considerable under-fire experience after moving into the lineup in October a year ago.
TARIS CLARK (6'3,293,Sr) appears to be in line for a starting guard spot and could be a key to the overall development of the offensive front. With his size, strength and experience, he should become a leading performer there in his final season.
Youngsters such as SAM SETTAR (6'4,312,So), BRIAN WALLS (6'4,275,So) and JOHN WHITEHEAD (6'7,313,rFr) figure to compete for first-string and top reserve roles. CHRIS BLANK (6'5,266,rFr) is another promising young player, though his progress was put on hold when he missed all of spring practice with mononucleosis.
On the defensive side of the line, three first-stringers, and seven of the top eight individuals, are back which should enable the Deacs to field a much-improved defensive unit in 1997, particularly against the run, which was an offseason objective.
The most experienced Deacon there is end ROBERT FATZINGER (6'4,270,Sr), now in his third year as a starter. One of the squad's most enthusiastic and emotional performers, Fatzinger missed nearly half of the 1996 campaign with a hand injury, but was back at full effectiveness during the spring and is primed for an outstanding senior season.
ALJAMONT JOYNER (6'3,303,Sr) is another veteran who the coaching staff are looking to for leadership and big-play production in '97. He'll line up beside promising young tackle FRED ROBBINS (6'5,312,So), who started 10 games as a redshirt freshman last season and should now emerge as much more of a factor on the inside.
In addition to those three returning regulars, the Deacon defensive line includes CLINTON WILBURN (6'4,267,So), who started six times as a redshirt freshman last season, as well as a pair of other talented sophomores who lettered in 1996--KELVIN SHACKLEFORD (6'1,277) and Da'VAUGHN MELLERSON (6'5,290).
The return of KELVIN JONES (6'1,279,So), who was redshirted last fall after playing as a true freshman in 1995, gives this area even more promise.
At linebacker, one of the top young players in the ACC, KELVIN MOSES (6'2,220,Jr), returns. Moses ranked 4th in the league with his 128 hits a year ago, his second straight year with more than 100 stops, and the Deacon coaches feel he is ready to take the next step up to prominence as an all-around performer this season.
Moses is joined by some experienced and gifted teammates at the two inside linebacker spots as well. Jon Mannon (6'2,229,Jr) and Dustin Lyman (6'4,241,So) shared the other inside 'backer spot in 1996 and combined for 141 tackles. They were listed as co-starters throughout 1996 and could be accorded that same dual role again this fall.
Other contenders for playing time on the inside are not as experienced. ABDUL GUICE (6'3,198,So) saw limited duty in nine games in '96, while BEN STAFFORD (6'3,239,So), who switched to linebacker from tight end a year ago, played in three contests. Redshirt freshman NICK BENDER (6'2,217) is another candidate for a backup spot.
The Deacons have another experienced and gifted performer returning at outside linebacker ("demon"). DAVID ZADEL (6'5,249,Sr) started 10 dates as a sophomore at defensive end, then all 11 games a year ago at his current position. With his height and athletic ability, he will be another prominent individual in the Wake Forest defensive scheme.
Additional experience is available behind Zadel in MARK MAKOVEC (6'1,212,Jr), who has lettered two years in a row and is one of the team's most versatile defenders, as well as a leader on special teams.
In the defensive backfield, standout cornerback D'ANGELO SOLOMON (5'8,166,Sr) heads a promising cast that claims quite a bit of game experience. Solomon has started since the last game of his freshman year (1994), a streak that has now been extended to a most impressive 23 games in a row. He received honorable mention in the All-ACC balloting a year ago and should be a prime contender for postseason honors again this fall.
JEFFREY MUYRES (6'2,192,Jr) is a returning starter at safety after ranking 4th on the team in total stops in 1996, although he could be challenged by a couple of veterans who were slated to be regulars in '96 but ended up on the sidelines due to physical troubles.
TERRENCE SUBER (5'10, 180, Sr) has been one of the mainstays in the secondary for three years but missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery during August of 1996. Another outstanding safety, DaLAWN PARRISH (5'11,200,So) had also been penciled in as a first-stringer before a back ailment interrupted his sophomore year. Both players were redshirted for 1996 but will be counted on to fill major roles this year.
The other starting corner spot figures to go to either DAMEON DANIEL (5'9,181,Jr), who was on the field during key situations frequently last season, or REGGIE AUSTIN (5'11,173, So), who played in eight contests (starting three) as a true freshman.
Another individual who contributed as a first-year player on special teams, DAVID MOORE (6'2,201,So), will provide quality depth at one of the safety slots. KEYSHORN SMITH (5'10,178,rFr) is a promising performer at corner.
The Demon Deacon kicking game should be improved with the return of punter TRIPP MOORE (6'2,215,Jr), who averaged 37.7 yards per kick in his first year of action, and placekicker MATTHEW BURDICK (6'0,169,So), who was pressed into late-season action as a true freshman a year ago. There is no proven depth at either position, however.
The 1997 Wake Forest schedule is probably the most difficult one a Caldwell-coached team has faced in five seasons. In addition to the annual eight ACC encounters, the Deacs will be meeting both Rutgers and East Carolina away from home, while entertaining Northwestern for the second straight year.
ECU is a one-year replacement for instate rival Appalachian State. The Northwestern contest should be an outstanding one as the Wildcats return to the site of last year's dramatic Demon Deacon comeback upset.