WINSTON-SALEM There was reason to wonder when Dave Clawson took over as Wake Forest coach whether defensive tackle Johnny Garcia would play his fifth season for the Deacons.
The question was answered this week, but not in a manner anyone would have wanted.
Garcia, a redshirt senior from Coral Gables, Fla., limped off the field from Saturday’s practice, when the Deacons had yet to don any pads. By Monday, an MRI revealed a torn anterior-cruciate ligament that, barring any kind of miracle recovery, will sideline Garcia for the season.
The news hit Clawson hard, for more reasons than one.
“First of all, you’re heartbroken for Johnny,” Clawson said. “When we first got here, he was on the fence whether he was going to come back or not. We recruited him a little bit.
“And from that point on, he did everything we asked. He was one of the leaders in the weight room. His work ethic was great. And you just really feel bad.
“I know it’s part of the game. It happens. It just breaks your heart when a senior who has invested so much into it, and he’s never going to play again. It’s hard.”
Compounding the pain was the loss of a key player from a position that was already one of the thinnest on the roster. All three starters on last season’s defensive line were seniors, which forced Clawson to find four new starters to play up front in his 4-2-5 defense.
One candidate, redshirt freshman James Looney, decided not to stick around. Looney, the brother of Joe Looney, a former All-ACC guard at Wake Forest, transferred to California.
His departure left Clawson and defensive line coach Dave Cohen to fashion a front four from redshirt senior Zachary Allen, redshirt junior Desmond Floyd, junior Tylor Harris, redshirt sophomores Josh Banks and Shelldon Lewinson, redshirt freshmen Wendell Dunn, Duke Ejiofor and Ali Lamont and four players from the incoming freshman class, Rashawn Shaw, Willie Yarbary, Zeek Rodney and Chris Stewart.
Floyd has been sidelined in the early practices by a foot injury, but Clawson said he expects him back soon. Floyd and Allen are the leading candidates to start at the defensive end opposite Dunn.
Garcia was running first team at defensive tackle alongside Banks, with Harris expected to rotate at both positions.
“We felt pretty good among Banks, Tylor Harris and Johnny – that would be our three-way roll,” Clawson said. “(Garcia’s injury) will give Shelldon Lewinson an opportunity. It might give a freshman an opportunity to play. We may have to take one of ends and start playing them inside a little it. Those are all the moving pieces.
“You really don’t want to do that stuff until you get through the installation. You first want to get things in and evaluate and then start moving the parts. But Shelldon is going to have a chance to step up, a freshman is going to have a chance to play and there’s a possibility of taking one of the ends and moving those guys inside to give you depth.”
Of the freshmen, Rodney, at 6-foot-1, 290 pounds, appears the most physically capable of providing an immediate contribution. As of Monday night, Rodney, Shaw, Yarbary and Stewart were receiving instructions from a budding coach.
“To his credit, (Garcia) was out here coaching our freshmen defensive tackles,” Clawson said. “And that’s why you have to feel for him because that’s the type of person he is.
“We haven’t been here long, but in a quick period of time, he’s a guy who our staff has really fallen in love with. He was all in. He bought in. There’s certain guys who just give you their heart and they trust you, and he did that for us.’’
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