NCF On The Trail: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Three-star running back Matt Colburn has landed at Wake Forest, a week after Louisville asked him to delay his enrollment, drawing national headlines.

Colburn made the announcement at his South Carolina high school on Wednesday, and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson tweeted out the news after the school received his letter of intent.

Colburn drew widespread attention after Tony Grantham told him on Feb. 2 that there was no scholarship available for him in 2015. Instead, he was asked to grayshirt, delaying his enrollment until 2016.

To read Andrea Adelson's full report click here.
The Wake Forest roster was in such bad shape when Dave Clawson became head coach there was no way he could fill all of its needs with just one recruiting class.

So Clawson got to work identifying how he would prioritize the positions he absolutely needed to fill. The emphasis last year was on offensive line. The emphasis this year was on offensive skill positions and cornerback. In totality, Clawson has put together two classes that hit everything he wanted.

But more than that, he elevated recruiting at Wake Forest to a new level. ESPN RecruitingNation slotted Wake Forest No. 42 in its final 2015 class rankings. That put the Deacs ninth in the ACC, a big improvement over their last-place ranking in 2014.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDave Clawson has put together two consecutive solid recruiting classes, especially at the skill positions.
What makes this class stand out is the quality players Clawson signed. Two four-stars came aboard, matching the same total Wake Forest had between 2010 and 2013. (Clawson did sign a four-star prospect last year in Kameron Uter, but he decided to play baseball).

One of them, tight end Bowman Archibald, flipped from Miami and became the first ESPN 300 prospect to sign with Wake Forest. The other is quarterback Kyle Kearns, who flipped from SMU and arrives from California.

Those players might have the star ratings next to their names, but Wake Forest also signed several other highly sought after prospects, including dual-threat quarterback Kendall Hinton, receiver Steven Claude and running back Rocky Reid.

“We’ve had big numbers now two years in a row, so you feel with these two classes we set a foundation of what we’re going to build personnel wise,” Clawson said in a recent phone interview. “This is two big groups, and these are the groups we have to improve and work with to become competitive again in the ACC.”

Wake Forest ended up signing two quarterbacks, five receivers and two running backs, helping the Deacs not only build depth but competition. What happens at quarterback will be interesting to watch.

Wake Forest initially targeted Hinton as their top quarterback to sign, but also saw how deep and talented the quarterback group was in California. Wake Forest rarely crosses to the West Coast to recruit but made an exception to potentially fill a need. Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero scouted Kearns last spring and liked what he saw.

A series of events led the Deacs back to Kearns. After freshman John Wolford won the job last year, backup Tyler Cameron decided to transfer. Another scholarship quarterback, Kevin Sousa, graduates in May, leaving the Deacs with no depth at all at the position. They needed to sign another quarterback.

Once Kearns decommitted from SMU, Wake Forest reached out again to see whether he was interested. He took an official visit and committed on the spot. Hinton already is enrolled and will compete with Wolford during spring practice, though Wolford will take the first-team reps.

“We said the same thing to them we said to John the year before, ‘If you come here, we’ll let you compete for it,’” Clawson said. “That’s not a knock on John. I thought John played well at times last year and very courageously and we’re very excited about him. But it’s football. Every position’s competitive. If he’s going to be our starter, he’s got to get better and he’ll get pushed.”

It should come as no surprise that Wake Forest will have to play freshman skill players and cornerbacks this year, simply because the Deacs have so few upperclassmen at those spots. Clawson anticipates half pf his roster when fall camp opens will be freshmen.

So inexperience will be high. But there is no doubt Wake Forest is more talented now than it was when Clawson arrived.

“We got a lot of really good, solid football players,” Clawson said. “We clearly upgraded our roster. We clearly became more talented. Now the key at Wake Forest is retaining them and developing them.”
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It’s been seven years since a team other than Florida State or Clemson won the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and after the Seminoles and Tigers each signed a top-five recruiting class this year, the balance of power doesn’t appear poised to shift any time soon.

That might be a problem for the ACC overall. With FSU and Clemson jockeying for command of a conference that has struggled to keep up appearances compared with the neighboring SEC, consolidating power at the top while the rest of the league picks up the scraps might not be the best way to convince the public -- or future playoff committees -- that there is more to the ACC than its top two teams.

But what if a great rivalry at the top also means a boon for the teams farther down the ladder? Consider it trickle-down economics for the college football set.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher lead elite programs that are forcing the rest of the ACC to keep pace.
The last time the ACC signed two top-five classes was in 2008, back when the playoff was a pipe dream, conference realignment was but a whisper, and Deshaun Watson was in the seventh grade. Miami and Clemson put together the nation’s two best signing classes, but neither program saw immediate dividends. An NCAA investigation unmoored any hope the Hurricanes could return to national prominence, and Clemson parted ways with its head coach just eight months after he signed the country’s No. 2 class.

At the same time, the balance of power was shifting in the SEC. Alabama had hired Nick Saban the year before, and by the end of 2008, the Crimson Tide were back in the national spotlight. Auburn, meanwhile, finished 5-7, and the gauntlet was thrown.

Over the next few years, the longtime rivals traded blows -- on the recruiting trail, on the fund-raising circuit, and on the field. The SEC was already the nation’s preeminent conference, but investment in maintaining that success grew exponentially. Alabama and Auburn paced the growth, but if Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Florida wanted to keep pace, they had to go all-in, too. Cut-throat coaching changes, major renovations in facilities, bloody recruiting battles, huge pay raises for assistant coaches -- these became the norm. It was an arms race, and the two teams at the top set the pace.

The same groundwork isn’t there for the ACC just yet, but what Florida State and Clemson are doing could set a similar precedent. Just look at what’s happened in the past few months.

NC State had its best signing day in years.

Virginia Tech signed a solid class in spite of hot-seat rumors for head coach Frank Beamer. That group joins an already outstanding group of rising freshmen in Blacksburg.

Duke signed its best class under David Cutcliffe, too, while renovations to the stadium are ongoing.

North Carolina is still fending off its own NCAA black cloud, but to fix its disastrous defense, it brought in the same coach who engineered Auburn’s national title in 2010.

Overall last week, the ACC had six teams finish in the top 30 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings (the most by any conference other than the SEC), had 12 in the top 50, and saw Louisville, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest all jump at least 13 spots from the previous year’s rankings.

Meanwhile, FSU and Clemson keep chugging along, raising the bar again and again. The Seminoles will send more players to the NFL combine this year than any other program in the nation. Clemson just announced a $75 million investment in upgrading its athletics facilities. These two programs push the goal line a little further down the field, and everyone else is forced to keep pace.

That is not to suggest the ACC is poised to change perceptions on the national level just yet. The league signed 47 members of the ESPN 300 this year, which would sound pretty nice if the SEC hadn’t nabbed 116. Those six ACC programs that finished among the top 30 signing classes still represent just half of the SEC’s tally. North Carolina and Miami still must escape NCAA purgatory and build consistent winners, Virginia Tech must capitalize on its young talent to salvage Beamer’s job, and the young coaches at NC State and Wake Forest need to prove they can develop the talent they’re bringing in.

But there is a standard being set at the top, with Florida State and Clemson upping the ante in recruiting, player development and financial investment in their programs, and that’s good for everyone. It’s not Auburn-Alabama yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s a spotlight on a conference that has long coveted a bigger stage, and it’s a pace-setter for the second tier of the league that now needs to run a bit faster just to keep up.
"Signing day delivers usual intrigue and drama"

The headline that capped the madcap fun that is the first Wednesday of every February did not apply to the ACC this year.

That had to be a relief to coaches across the league.

While No. 1-rated ESPN 300 prospect Byron Cowart dawdled between Auburn and Florida, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 each withstood their share of nationally televised signing day announcements, flips and flops.

In ACC country, nobody had to wait on a hat choice. Clemson finished up its No. 4 class by mid-morning with nary a surprise. Of course, it helps that 15 of its freshmen had already enrolled, including five-star offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt.

Florida State did not have to wait on pins and needles for wavering recruits, either. The Noles had eight early enrollees themselves, including elite players Josh Sweat, George Campbell and Derwin James.

As FSU reporter Jared Shanker wrote:
"A program once known for its signing-day surges had no surprises as all 20 commitments faxed their letters of intent by mid-morning. Even the signing-day addition of ESPN 300 safety Marcus Lewis was mostly expected, capping the nation’s No. 2 class at 21 signees."

The same went for Virginia Tech, which had nearly its entire Top 25 class ready to sign for weeks. The Hokies had seven early enrollees, but several commits withstood late offers -- including tackle Mike Arnold -- to hold firm.

"We had one guy make a decision to join our class in the last two weeks,” Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “The rest of them have been committed. We held on to this class, and I think we're really proud of that."

It was an unusual feeling, considering every coach is prepared for the twists and turns that come with 18-year-olds making big decisions about their future.

“You have those signing day moments every year,” Stinespring said. “That's what you expect. You hope they're to a minimum. This is one we really felt good throughout with this class. I like for it to always be that way, but we know it's probably not going to go that way often.”

Louisville may have provided the most drama not only on Wednesday but in the days leading up to signing day: first offering troubled defensive end Devonte Fields, then coming under scrutiny for asking long-committed back Matt Colburn to grayshirt.

On signing day itself, Louisville held on to commitments from defensive end G.G. Robinson and quarterback Lamar Jackson after late pushes from SEC schools (Auburn for Robinson; Florida for Jackson). The Cards lost just one player, defensive end Sheldrick Redwine flipped to Miami.

Still, Louisville finished with the No. 30 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation rankings, as 12 ACC teams finished in the top 50.
  • No. 2 Florida State
  • No. 4 Clemson
  • No. 23 Miami
  • No. 24 North Carolina
  • No. 25 Virginia Tech
  • No. 30 Louisville
  • No. 33 NC State
  • No. 41 Georgia Tech
  • No. 42 Wake Forest
  • No. 45 Duke
  • No. 46 Virginia
  • No. 48 Pittsburgh

"It's a celebration," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after announcing his class Wednesday. "And no drama. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Completed class: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Wake Forest has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Bowman Archibald TE-Y Pasco High School, Florida

Four-stars
Kyle Kearns QB-PP Foothill High School, California

Three-stars
Dionte Austin CB Calvert Hall College High School, Maryland
Steven Claude WR Champagnat Catholic High School, Florida
Tabari Hines WR South Florence High School, South Carolina
Nathan Gilliam OT Farragut High School, Tennessee
Scott Washington WR Saint John's College High School, Washington D.C.
T.J. Haney OT Gaffney High School, South Carolina
Charles Wade WR Bishop Kenny High School, Florida
Christopher Calhoun OLB Centennial High School, Georgia
Kendall Hinton QB-DT Southern Durham High School, North Carolina
Alex Bachman S Oaks Christian High School, California
Rocky Reid RB Concord High School, North Carolina
Amari Henderson CB Mallard Creek High School, North Carolina
Jessie Bates S R. Nelson Snider High School, Indiana
Nate Mays OLB Gordon Central High School, Georgia
Paris Black DE Terry Sanford High School, North Carolina
Kahlil Welsh DT Sandalwood High School, Florida
Justin Strnad S East Lake High School, Florida
Tyler Bell RB Faith Academy, Alabama
Elontae Bateman DT Ridgeway High School, Tennessee

Two-stars
Jake Benzinger OT Mount Greylock Regional High School, Massachusetts

Ungraded
Garrett Wilson LS Southern Lee High School, North Carolina

Midyear additions: Wake Forest

January, 16, 2015
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Four recruits have enrolled at Wake Forest, according to the program's official website, WakeForestSports.com:

Bowman Archibald, TE-Y
HT: 6-5 WT: 240
Positional Rank: No. 8 TE-Y
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 269)

Tabari Hines, WR
HT: 5-8 WT: 155
Positional Rank: No. 108 WR
Stars: 3

Kendall Hinton, QB-DT
HT: 5-11 WT: 188
Positional Rank: No. 35 QB-DT
Stars: 3

Garrett Wilson, LS
HT: 6-4 WT: 210
Positional Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Early Offer: Hokies score super sleeper 

December, 16, 2014
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Once again, Frank Beamer has landed an under-recruited prospect with “unlimited potential.” Plus, how much progress has been made by the committee looking into whether or not there should be an early-signing period?

Help is on the way: ACC 

October, 8, 2014
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Each year on the recruiting trail, schools are met with needs that need to be addressed to shore up depth issues both immediately and down the line. With four months until national signing day for the class of 2015, many teams have addressed and met needs.


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Scout's Take: TE Archibald to Wake Forest 

September, 22, 2014
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Wake Forest has grabbed a huge commitment on the trail from ESPN 300 tight end Bowman Archibald. Read on to see how Archibald, who originally picked Miami, can make an early impact for the Demon Deacons:


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ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
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RecruitingNation takes a look at the 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the ACC schools.


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ESPN 300: ACC's must-get recruits 

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In every class there are must-get recruits for schools. They can be a top uncommitted prospect or even a pledge who is essential to keep in the fold.

Here are the picks for the teams in the ACC, with the prospect's overall ranking.


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The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, competition and recruits targeting uncommitted players to come to their chosen school, there's bound to be some players who see their stock improve and some wild recruiting news that comes out of left field.

Here are five bold predictions of what will happen at the prestigious event:


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The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:


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ACC recruiting scorecard

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Clemson has had a big week on the recruiting trail, as the Tigers picked up the nation's No. 2 tight end, Garrett Williams on Monday. With that, we figured now is as good of a time as any to compile an ACC recruiting scorecard.

Below you will find each ACC team, its number of commitments and its most recent recruiting news. There's obviously a ways to go between now and national signing day on Feb. 4, 2015, but here's a look at where everyone in the league currently stands.

(Note: ESPN has only ranked the top 15 recruiting classes for 2015.)

Boston College
Current commitments: 9
Spotlight: The highlight of the Eagles' class is No. 7 tight end-H Jakeb Burt, a 6-foot-5, 238-pound three-star prospect. BC’s other big commits include three-star, No. 35 cornerback Lukas Denis and three-star, No. 52 offensive tackle Anthony Palazzolo.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Clemson
Current commitments: 16
Spotlight: The Tigers' best recruit is five-star tackle Mitch Hyatt, the nation's No. 7 overall player and the highest-ranked offensive lineman to commit to the program in the 10 years ESPN has ranked players. Clemson has nine four-star commitments as well, with Williams and three other offensive linemen among them.
ESPN 300 commitments: 7
ESPN rank: 5

Duke
Current commitments: 3
Spotlight: The Blue Devils have just three commitments, but two of them are three-star players who are nationally ranked at their positions: No. 39 defensive tackle Brandon Boyce and No. 37 defensive end Zach Morris.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Florida State
Current commitments: 11
Spotlight: The Seminoles have hauled in No. 25 overall player Derwin James Jr., the nation's top safety. They also scored a major win by beating out in-state rivals Florida and Miami to get No. 5 cornerback Tyrek Cole. Florida State has six four-star players among its 11 commitments.
ESPN 300 commitments: 4
ESPN rank: 7

Georgia Tech
Current commitments: 3
Spotlight: No. 25 athlete Jaylend Ratliffe highlights this haul for the Yellow Jackets. The 6-1, 200-pound four-star is ranked as the No. 278 overall player in the nation, flashing tremendous athleticism as a left-handed quarterback at the prep level.
ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Louisville
Current commitments: 1
Spotlight: Bobby Petrino's only commit in his first class with the Cardinals is 6-foot, 205-pound safety T.J. Jallow.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Miami
Current commitments: 11
Spotlight: No. 5 running back Dexter Williams has been the biggest get for the Hurricanes, as they stole him out of Gator Country. Miami also boasts No. 5 tight end-Y Bowman Archibald and No. 4 dual-threat quarterback Dwayne Lawson, two of seven four-star commitments for the program so far.
ESPN 300 commitments: 5
ESPN rank: 11

North Carolina
Current commitments: 9
Spotlight: The Tar Heels have landed the nation’s No. 3 tight end-H in ESPN 300 prospect Carl Tucker, a four-star recruit and the nation's No. 260 overall player. They have landed two other four-star prospects: No. 31 offensive tackle Mason Veal and No. 22 safety Ronnie Harrison.
ESPN 300 commitments: 1

NC State
Current commitments: 4
Spotlight: Three of the Wolfpack's four commitments have come from within the state, with the lone exception being wide receiver Freddie Phillips.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Pitt
Current commitments: 3
Spotlight: The Panthers have just three commitments for this class, but two of them are three-star players who are nationally ranked at their positions: No. 27 outside linebacker Kevin Givens and No. 42 offensive guard Alex Paulina.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Syracuse
Current commitments: 7
Spotlight: The Orange's run game should look pretty good down the road: Five of their seven current commitments are either offensive linemen or running backs, with the top three prospects coming on the offensive line, and two of them currently prep teammates: tackle Colin Byrne and guard Samuel Clausman.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Virginia
Current commitments: 3
Spotlight: The Cavaliers' 2015 recruiting class doesn't quite stack up to its 2014 haul as of now, but among their three prospects are nationally ranked, three-star players: No. 22 pocket-passing quarterback Nick Johns and No. 28 safety Juan Thornhill.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Virginia Tech
Current commitments: 4
Spotlight: The Hokies' class is also short on numbers but features three nationally ranked, three-star prospects: No. 39 athlete Mook Reynolds, No. 29 cornerback DuWayne Johnson and No. 37 defensive tackle Harry Lewis.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

Wake Forest
Current commitments: 2
Spotlight: Dave Clawson's first full class currently has two players: defensive end Paris Black and offensive tackle T.J. Haney.
ESPN 300 commitments: 0

2016 RB with offers has eyes on ACC 

February, 10, 2014
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The 2014 class is signed and delivered, which means it is time to look to the future. One recruit in the 2016 class already has a few offers and the attention of schools throughout Florida and the Southeast.


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