Sitting in an athletic department office at Wake Forest this
summer, wide receiver Desmond Clark was trying to explain the
biggest change in the Demon Deacons' football program when the
answer suddenly seemed to erupt from beneath his feet. At that
moment, one floor directly below Clark, one of his teammates had
just cranked up a Smashing Pumpkins tune on the weight-room
stereo. The beat emanating from below was so loud that it
jangled a set of keys lying on the desk next to Clark. With
pleasant conversation all but impossible, the senior wideout
just pointed to the floor as if to say, "There's your answer."
One of the first issues coach Jim Caldwell addressed after
leaving Joe Paterno's staff at Penn State in 1992 to take the
Wake Forest job was upgrading the team's weight room. As the
facility has grown, so too have the Demon Deacons. Once the
runts of the ACC, they have the most returning starters in the
conference (16) and a new bravado to go with all that brawn.
"There has been a tremendous change in this team physically,"
says Caldwell, 14-41 at Wake. "And that new stature has
permeated everything we do."
Caldwell's plan has been to redshirt virtually every freshman
(he had done so with 60 of the 65 players on this spring's
roster) and lock them in the weight room for a year so they can
grow in strength and confidence. The 6'3" Clark, for example,
came to Wake a flabby 216 pounds. Four years later he's 248 with
9% body fat and is 37 catches away from becoming the ACC's
alltime leading receiver. Clark's rapport with senior
quarterback Brian Kuklick gives him the freedom to switch routes
on the fly for longer gains, while his power allows him to
exploit the man-to-man coverage most ACC teams use.
But for the Deacons to prosper, Clark must also put his
muscles--he bench-presses 350 pounds--to work as a blocker,
cracking back on linebackers to spring a runner: Morgan Kane up
the middle or Chris McCoy around the corner. In the past the
Deacons' weak rushing attack (12th- worst in the nation in '97)
has allowed teams to flood the passing zones and shut down
Kuklick. Unable to control the clock last season, Wake Forest
lost four games in which it led at halftime. "Brian and Desmond
are very, very dangerous and explosive," says Caldwell. "But for
all of that to work, we have to be strong rushing the ball."
The Deacons must be equally committed to stopping the rush. If
not, they might as well convert their weight room back into an
indoor tennis court, as it was before. Right now the room is
decorated with a countdown calendar for the opener against Air
Force and portraits of former Deacons greats like Brian Piccolo.
There are also charts that honor the team's strongest players,
such as 6'5" junior defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who, at 312
pounds, has surprisingly not yet been nicknamed Baskin by his
teammates; senior linebacker Kelvin Moses, who runs a 4.4 40;
and junior linebacker Dustin Lyman, who led the team with 91
tackles. Despite a subpar secondary, this unit cut its rushing
yards allowed per game from 254.5 in 1996 to 96.1 last season
(10th in the nation), the biggest such improvement in the
country. The goal for '98? "Zero yards per rush," says Lyman.
"There was a time when we would look across the field and it
seemed like we were a lot smaller than everybody else," Lyman
adds. "Now we can compete physically with anybody. I guess we
all got sick of hearing those stupid David and Goliath speeches
and decided to do something about it." --D.F.
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL SEARS PASS MASTER Kuklick will air it out, as long as the ground game doesn't leave him high and dry. [Brian Kuklick in game]
1997 record: 5-6 (3-5, tied for 6th in ACC)
Final ranking: unranked
1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE
Scoring 22.3 26.2
Rushing Yards 105.7 96.1
Passing Yards 253.3 264.3
Total Yards 359.0 360.4
Brian Kuklick needs 1,971 yards to become Wake's top career
passer.... Desmond Clark ranked 11th in the country with a
school-record 72 receptions last year.... Senior left tackle
Jeff Flowe has made 22 straight starts and is one of six Wake
linemen who are 310 pounds or more.... Dustin Lyman led the team
in solo tackles (57), sacks (7) and pass breakups (8), and tied
for tops in tackles for a loss (9).
Schedule strength: 58th of 112
Oct. 24 vs. North Carolina Wake Forest has dropped eight in a
row to its Tobacco Road rival, including a 30-12 away loss last
Nov. 14 vs. Florida State The Deacons are 0-5 against the
Seminoles in ACC play (average margin: 48.6 points) and 2-13-1
The Bottom Line
There's no reason that the Deacons can't go 8-3 and finish above
.500 in the ACC for the first time in a decade.