Editor's Update: 10:45 a.m. - This article has been updated to correct the number of true freshmen Jim Grobe played in a season.
While most people surrounding the Wake Forest football are satisfied with Dave Clawson's first year as head coach, a small minority is frustrated with the program's direction: several former upperclassmen football players.
Sources close to Blogger So Dear report that only five of the 12 redshirt juniors will return to Wake Forest for their final year of eligibility. Among those five scholarship players, two initially enrolled in the university without a scholarship: linebacker Hunter Williams and wide receiver PJ Howard. Linebacker Brandon Chubb, offensive lineman Dylan Intemann and punter Alex Kinal will also come back for the Demon Deacons. According to Coach Clawson, the Demon Deacons are expected to have "only 21 or 22 upperclassmen out of 84 scholarship players" for the 2015 season. Some redshirt juniors who are not returning to the team are upset with the coaching staff's insistence in #theprocess over the desire to win in the short term. They believe that Clawson has shown a clear preference for playing and developing younger players on Saturdays. In 2014's 3-9 campaign, the Demon Deacons saw nine true freshmen take the field. One senior football player who asked to remain anonymous stated that Clawson preferred to play his recruits over players from the prior reign. It's worth noting, however, that Wake Forest did start seniors Kevin Johnson, Bud Noel, Anthony Wooding Jr., E.J. Scott, Matt James, and Antonio Ford last season.
He did so because these players were built for this system and were the future of #theaWAKEning. However, Clawson states that some attrition is positive because it opens up scholarship spots. He has admitted that the current roster lacks the talent needed for to return to a bowl for the first time since 2011. "I've got to deal with reality, and the reality is that we need to build our roster. We’re going to be an extremely young football team next year and I could have told you that when I took the job," Dave Clawson told The Winston-Salem Journal, "I looked at the roster and I saw there were gaps and we knew that the junior class was really, really thin and we weren’t going to have a senior class this year."
This strategy of building through youth is fairly common under new regimes. ACC Atlantic Division foes N.C. State and Boston College- who just completed their second seasons under new head coaches- finished 114th and 127th respectively out of 128 teams in Phil Steele's Combined Experience Chart. Additionally, the Wolfpack had only 28 upperclassmen out of 99 players on their roster last season. Both teams displayed incremental progress on the field in Year Two and established a strong foundation for growth this season. Given Clawson's pedigree at rebuilding programs at Fordham, Richmond, and Bowling Green, the roster upheaval is not surprising. In Year Two as a coach, Clawson is a collective 13-24, but in Year Four, he is a combined 29-11.
Often called a "Program Builder," Clawson has made his intentions clear. He plans to tear down the current program to build a sturdier foundation. "There’s a process to get there," Dave Clawson said to the Winston-Salem Journal. "And there’s no shortcuts we’re going to take that’s going to compromise the process." But for many upperclassmen, #theprocess won’t fully be implemented until after they graduate. Still Wake Forest fans should recognize that Coach Clawson is employing the long-term strategy he knows best: program-building.