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Meticulous QB keeps Wake's hopes in order

Skinner's attention to detail, leadership qualities have produced 18 victories, high expectations

By Edward G. Robinson III
edward.robinson@newsobserver.com

Riley Skinner obsesses over the order of things.

Books are stacked tallest to shortest. Crumbs are vacuumed. Clothes are laid out the night before. Wake Forest's starting quarterback keeps one of the neatest lockers on the team.

“Everything is in its unique little spot,” he said. “My shorts folded, my shirt folded, and my hat on top of it.”

He carries his obsession for detail onto the football field. “I like to put the ball exactly where I want it,” he said. “I have to know where everybody's going to be.”

It's a quality that's helped make him one of Wake's most successful passers. It's what helped make him the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2006 and helped him lead the nation last season in completion percentage (72.4).

In two seasons, after taking over as a redshirt freshman, the junior has tied the school record for wins (18) and led the Deacons to back-to-back bowl games.

Tonight, Skinner and the No.23 Deacs are in Waco, Texas, for their season opener against Baylor. While there are high expectations for a team with 16 returning starters, the spotlight will shine brightest on the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla.

“Riley just takes everything he does and does it to the 10th degree,” Wake defensive tackle John Russell said. “Because he really likes mental perfection.”

Teammates tease Skinner about a lack of foot speed. And his need for order.

Russell roomed with Skinner as a freshman. Skinner's mom, Jennifer, warned him that her son liked things a specific way.

He had no idea how specific.

Teammates still resort to a favorite prank that riles Skinner. He must have the volume on the remote set to an odd number. So they turn it to 50.

“He'll be like, ‘Dude, go up or down one,'” Russell said. “We'll go up to 51 and then back down to 50.”

Unknown quantity

Skinner looks completely comfortable running Wake's hybrid spread offense. He passed for 2,204 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007.

It wasn't always so easy. When coach Grobe called on Skinner, he was a redshirt freshman, the last recruit to sign in his class.

Grobe substituted the young quarterback for an injured Ben Mauk during the first game of the 2006 season against Syracuse.

The offense was geared for an option quarterback, not a pocket passer.

“He didn't know what to call for me,” Skinner said.

His first pass was a screen to running back Micah Andrews. It was his only pass of the game.

The next week, against Duke, Skinner didn't pass much until the Deacs found themselves behind. Forced to throw, Skinner shined a late-game comeback.

“I felt pretty comfortable after that,” said Skinner, who led the Deacs to an 11-3 record and an ACC title that season.

Learning the position

Grobe wasn't pleased with Skinner's 13 interceptions last season, though he understood the growing pains.

“Too many times he was trying to force balls into coverages,” Grobe said. “That's not unusual for young quarterbacks because ... they have to find out what they're capable of doing.”

Skinner said he learned from the first game of last season at Boston College, where forced passes resulted in three interceptions.

He has poured over film in an attempt to refine his reading of defenses.

“The game just truly slows down after you get more and more reps under your belt,” he said.

Grobe said he recognized Skinner's capacity for leadership at an early stage.

“There are a lot of smart quarterbacks out there that don't quite have the ability, and there are a lot of kids with great ability, but they can't manage the game,” Grobe said. “Riley's got the good combination.”

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