The Wake Forest football team is 5-1. After Wake’s less than stellar 7-3 victory over Tulane on opening night I didn’t think that I’d type that intro sentence, but here we are. The performances haven’t always been loaded with style points, but they’ve been effective enough to win five out of six times, including three wins over Power Five opponents. Head coach Dave Clawson is already just one win away from bowl eligibility, which would be Wake Forest’s first bowl appearance since 2011. Dave Clawson, the “maestro of program building,” is at it again.
When Clawson took over Wake Forest’s football program in December of 2013, he wasn’t impressed with what he saw. He was not impressed with the talent on the roster, and he wasn’t impressed with the strength and conditioning numbers. Now, in his third year at the helm, he has the Demon Deacons set to be bowl eligible by Halloween. Yes, I believe that Wake will beat Army in three weeks.
Clawson’s teams are historically good by year three. During his first year at Fordham he went 0-11, but led the team to a 7-4 record in year three, and was 10-3 in year four. He then went to Richmond, where he went just 3-8 during his first year, but won 9 games in his second season, 6 in his third, and 11 in his fourth.
His stop at Bowling Green was somewhat different, as he went 7-6 during his first season, but then won just 2 and 5 games, respectively, in years two and three. In year 4 the team won 8 games, and by year 5 he led Bowling Green to a 10-3 record, including a MAC Championship. He set that program up for long-term success, and many of his players won another MAC Championship in 2015 under now Syracuse head coach Dino Babers.
Wake Forest went just 3-9 during Dave Clawson’s first two seasons in Winston-Salem. Each season included a win over a FCS opponent, a win over Army, and a comically low scoring win over an ACC opponent. To those on the outside, it may have appeared that the program wasn’t getting any better and was poised for a lackluster 2016 season, but those following the program knew he was building something of substance.
The 2015 recruiting class was Wake Forest’s best in school history (on paper), and that was topped again in 2016. Clawson also made sure to focus on recruiting offensive linemen during his initial 2014 recruiting class, and those efforts have produced several starters on the offensive line. Wake Forest had the worst offensive line in college football in 2014, but it has turned into an asset for the program. I wasn’t sold when Clawson said that the offensive line would eventually become a strength for Wake, but the unit has been a net positive. Welcome to 2016. Clawson has also upgraded the talent at the skill positions, particularly running back, and quarterback play is improving, and only going to get better.
The school has made investments in the program. A state of the art indoor practice facility was made thanks to a very generous donation by Bob McCreary and others. This improves recruiting efforts, and also provides a very practical benefit to Wake, as they can have a full practice despite poor weather conditions. The athletic department/donors now also provide the support for football players to attend both summer school sessions, so that they can earn additional credits, and also continue going through strength training. The players on the team now have bought into Clawson’s proven program, and the results are tangible.
Wake is now halfway through the season. I don’t know exactly what record the Deacs will finish with, but I do know that Clawson and his staff are building something to be proud of at Wake Forest, and that eight wins isn’t out of the question. If you look at the depth chart, you still see so many underclassmen, particularly on offense. Wake is only going to get better.
Clawson didn’t take short cuts in this rebuild, or in his previous efforts, and it was hard to watch as a result. But he built a foundation that is very solid, and the program is now significantly better as a result. The players have worked unbelievably hard, as has the entire coaching staff. Wake is now in a position where fans look forward to watching the game every Saturday.
I’m very excited to see what this team does the rest of the season, and to see where this program can go in the coming years. Wake Forest has one hell of a football coach in Dave Clawson, and his rebuild of the Demon Deacons is well underway.