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.
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.”