clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dave Clawson markets “open competition” at quarterback, other positions entering 2024 season

Clawson’s statement comes hours after adding 22 players on National Signing Day

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 football season was one Wake Forest and head coach Dave Clawson had certainly become unaccustomed to. After seven-straight bowl appearances, the Demon Deacons went 4-8, and missed the chance of keeping the streak alive as a five-win team with a tough final-game loss in Syracuse. A season like that leaves some marks.

“We’re all 4-8,” Clawson said Wednesday in his National Signing Day press conference. “I’m a 4-8 head coach. Our two coordinators are 4-8 coordinators. Our players are 4-8 players. We all have to own that.”

“We had a great run of seven-straight bowl games. It’s over in some ways. When you have a year like that, it makes you look back and evaluate everything you’re doing. And sometimes that’s a very healthy exercise that allows you to get better and improve. We’re in the process of doing that now.”

Improvement comes in many forms in the modern age of college football, most notably, the transfer portal. And, after the departure of Mitch Griffis, who started nine games this season, to Marshall, the Demon Deacons went and found a possible solution at one of the most valuable skill positions.

Entering his sixth season of college football after stops at Boise State and Louisiana Tech, Hank Bachmeier will be 25 when he suits up for Wake Forest in the fall. He was a very specific type of quarterback Clawson and company were looking for in the portal.

“We wanted somebody that was a one-year player,” Clawson said. “The second thing is, we wanted somebody who had played a lot in games, who had a lot of game experience. I just think, sometimes, what you get in practice isn’t what you get in a game…We wanted somebody that had game experience, that had a proven ability in a football game against live competition that had had success.”

“By getting a one-year guy, we were getting somebody who is older, experienced, mature.”

The import of getting a player at quarterback with one year of eligibility remaining through the portal is due to another that signed with Wake Forest Wednesday, Georgia Player of the Year Jeremy Hecklinski.

It was a player Clawson noted that, to no fault of his own, took effort to ensure he would remain committed to the Demon Deacons.

“Nothing that Jeremy did gave us doubt,” he said. “I just think, having done this for 35-36 years, with all the success he was having, and he certainly had many, many other options. But we were committed to him early. We were the first Power Five offer. We took his commitment and we never wavered. And we gave him a constant and consistent selling point of why we felt Wake Forest was the best place for him.”

“He never wavered. Great family. This was a family that, when they used the word commitment, they meant it. They didn’t mean reservation. So the more you spent time with Jeremy, his mom, his dad, his family, we felt really good about it. Even though people were saying, ‘Hey, this school is going to check him out tonight and they may offer him,’ we never wavered.”

Hecklinski will likely compete with Bachmeier and returner Michael Kern — who started the final two games of 2023 — to decide who will open the season under center in 2024.

“It’s an open competition,” Clawson said. “We did not get the quarterback play a year ago that we’re accustomed to here…for a variety of reasons.”

“We certainly wanted to give Jeremy an opportunity to compete for the job right away. But also, if it doesn’t happen year one, he still has a runway there of four years.”

Clawson also indicated that redshirt freshman Charlie Gilliam and walk-on Tyler Mizzell will be given a chance to battle for the spot.

“We’re gonna give them all reps,” he said. “Whoever is our starting quarterback to open the ‘24 season will have earned it.”

Two additional players signed through the transfer portal Wednesday, offensive lineman Keegan Trost and linebacker Branson Combs. Cornerback Capone Blue committed to Wake Forest on Dec. 18, but has yet to sign.

And Wake Forest does not plan to be finished just yet with transfers.

“We welcome three transfers that I think will give us instant help, either as starters, or give us competitive depth,” Clawson said. “We’re continuing to look at players in the portal. I don’t think we’re necessarily done. There’s certainly going to be an opportunity to add one or two more people before we get back in January…Hopefully, at some point in the next two or three weeks, we’ll add a few more players.”

READ: BloggerSoDear’s recap of Wake Forest’s 2024 Signing Day additions

Joining the transfers will be 19 high school recruits that signed with the Deacs Wednesday, several of whom will graduate early and be in Winston-Salem for spring camp. Those players include Hecklinski, WR Jeremiah Melvin, TE Dominic DeLuca, OL Jack Hines, OL Clinton Richard, DE Camden Hardy, DT Ameir Glenn, DE Josh Harrison, LB Darius Jones, DB Devin Cook, DB Sam Neely, DB Tayshaun Burney and DB Myles Turpin.

Many, if not all, are going to be in competitions for playing time in 2024.

“I think the days that guys wait for two or three years for their turn, that’s harder and harder to do,” Clawson said. “So we’re gonna let all these freshmen compete. Certainly, it’s easier to do that at the skill positions than it is [at] the line positions…We’re bringing in these corners and the safeties and giving them a chance to play early…so they’re going to get meaningful reps. Let’s see what they can do. I’d say the same at the offensive skill positions.”

Wake Forest also retained the services of several key players who potentially could’ve gone elsewhere — RB Demond Claiborne, WRs Taylor Morin and Donavon Greene, OT DeVonte Gordon, DLs Kevin Pointer and Kendron Wayman and DE Jasheen Davis.

“Some of our most critical recruiting battles that we won were keeping some of our really good players here…” Clawson said. “I’m not telling you that we kept everybody that we wanted to, but I think we kept a lot of key guys and it gives us a chance next year to return a lot of starting experience…Just looking to next year, we have a chance to bring back upwards of 15-16-17 starters.”

A factor in moves like this, in the new age of college football, is NIL collectives and the deals that come with it. This year, Wake Forest was able to be more competitive in that space, allowing it to retain players it wished to keep, while targeting needed additions through the portal.

The transfer portal is as dynamic as it can get. For Dave Clawson and Wake Forest, it doesn’t change day-to-day, things shift minute-by-minute. Recruiting has become much the same. But, with 22 players signing their names to the Deacons Wednesday, Wake Forest potentially got closer to putting the failures of 2023 in the past and pursuing renewed success in 2024.

The search for answers to that possibility will begin in just a few months.