It's been eight seasons since Chris Barclay took the field in a Wake Forest football uniform, but he is never far from the mind of Demon Deacon coach Jim Grobe. Facing the media at this year's ACC Kickoff event, Grobe said more than once that he yearned for a "Chris Barclay-type" back to carry the load for his football team. Barclay, the 2005 ACC Player of the Year, lead the league in rushing on three occasions during his career but it was more than yards and touchdowns that endeared him to his head coach.
"Chris was a guy that could carry it 20-25 times a game and want it more," Grobe said. "I'd like to get to where we've got a guy that we can hand it to him a bunch and not worry about him. Somebody that wants a lot of carries, wants the ball in his hands."
Dependability at running back has been an issue for the Deacons over the past few seasons. Redshirt senior Joshua Harris' 2010 rookie campaign gave Deacon fans reason to believe the position was in good hands, but his durability became an issue in 2011. Harris' inability to get back on the practice field resulted in Grobe burning Orville Reynolds' redshirt season. The Duncanville, Texas native rebounded to start 11 games in 2012, but he left two of those games with concussion-like symptoms. The latter injury was suffered early in the first half of the Deacons' loss at Notre Dame, and Harris sat out the finale against Vandy.
Now that Harris' senior season is in doubt, fans are wondering where the Deacons might turn to fill his shoes. The situation is even more troubling when one considers that Wake Forest has overhauled its pass-happy offense to establish more of a ground game. Next on the theoretical depth chart is Deandre Martin, but given Grobe's recent comments it might not be that simple. In fact, it's not just Harris' transgressions that have drawn coaches' ire.
"We've got some guys that are really not showing a lot of maturity right now as far as their workout habits, classroom habits- a lot of different things," Grobe said. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now. We don't really have a dependable guy right now in that whole group. We'll just kind of see how it sorts out."
After all the running back issues in 2011, Wake Forest fans were excited for the debut of the 6'2, 225-pound Martin last year. The redshirt sophomore scored 6 rushing touchdowns and displayed a capable set of hands, catching 16 passes out of the backfield. With his size and speed, the Hialeah-Miami Lakes product could be the Barclay-esque back that Grobe is looking for. That, Grobe indicated, is largely up to him.
"We've got a guy in Deandre Martin that could be that guy," he said. "I mean he's physically capable of being that guy. But he's got to show us a little bit more resolve off the field to have confidence in him on the field."
After Martin, the experience at the tailback position goes to nil. The aforementioned Reynolds is now a flanker being groomed to play a role similar to Michael Campanaro. Joshua Wilhite, a redshirt freshman from Fresno, Texas was a highly touted back coming out of high school. Wilhite spurned offers from Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt to play at Wake Forest. At the very least he should compete for playing time this season should Harris be ineligible.
Perhaps the more curious option is one Dominique Gibson, also a redshirt freshman. Gibson practiced the entire 2012 season at safety, but was moved to tailback at the start of spring practice. Stories abound about Gibson's exploits on the scout team, and he is highly regarded as one of the best athletes on the team. After Gibson, though, the Deacs are down to true freshmen Dezmond Wortham (who suffered an ACL tear during his senior season) and John Armstrong. However, with the lifting of the redshirt program, Grobe is determined to have an open competition.
"I'm equal opportunity," Grobe said. "If we hand you the ball and you gain 10 yards, I'm going to hand it to you again. If we hand you the ball and you don't gain anything, then it's Tanner's turn. It's going to be basically, you earn your carries. If you're not doing a good job you're not going to carry it."