Dave Clawson is satisfied that Wake Forest has made significant progress in his eight months as coach.
“The one thing I can gauge is where we are right now from where we were in the spring, and we’re clearly better,” Clawson said. “We’re executing the offense at a high level. Defensively, I think we’ve gotten stronger. Some players have developed.”
He’ll find out Thursday just how significant that progress has been when Wake Forest opens the season at Louisiana-Monroe. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Warhawks, of the Sun Belt Conference, return three players on offense and eight on defense from a team that finished 6-6 last season. One of the victories was a 21-19 upset at Wake Forest on Sept. 14.
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Pete Thomas, set to start at quarterback for ULM, started for N.C. State against Wake Forest in a game the Deacons won 28-13 on Oct. 5. Thomas transferred after the season as a graduate student, making him immediately eligible.
“This is a good football team, and they’ve played good people,” Clawson said. “They’ve always played a tough schedule, and certainly it’s always a challenge going on the road – especially with a young football team.
“But having said that, I think our guys are excited and ready to go. This is one that starts to count, so we’re looking forward to getting out there.”
Wake Forest is one of the youngest teams in college football, tied with N.C. State with the third-highest percentage of freshmen and sophomores among the players in preseason camp.
Clawson has shown a willingness to play freshmen, and in fact will have one snapping to another Thursday.
John Wolford of Jacksonville, Fla., will start at quarterback, and A’Lique Terry of Hialeah, Fla., will start at center.
Wolford was the story of preseason camp, beating out redshirt sophomore Tyler Cameron and redshirt junior Kevin Sousa for the starting job. In his last competitive game, in which his Bishop Kenny High team lost 74-73 to Clay High School in the state regional semifinals, Wolford passed for seven touchdowns and ran for three.
“He is our best quarterback,” Clawson said. “So I can’t worry about whether he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.
“You know, in a perfect world, you’d always love the guy being in the system one or two years before he plays, but we’re going to put the guys out there who give us the best chance to win – and he clearly won the job.
“He’s played at a high level. I don’t think those things suddenly disappear once you play a game. He’s executed well in practice. He’s executed well in scrimmages.”
Terry ran second-team at center behind returning starter Cory Helms, a sophomore, while redshirt sophomores Will Smith and Tyler Hayworth competed for first-team left guard. By the second scrimmage, Clawson had seen enough of Terry to give him a shot with the first team.
Clawson put him at center and moved Helms to left guard.
Sophomore Josh Harris, Helms’ teammate from Milton High in Georgia, will start at right guard, and redshirt senior Antonio Ford and redshirt junior Dylan Intemann are set to start at tackle.
Terry (6-foot-1, 300) was ranked as one of the top 25 prospects in talent-rich Dade County by the Miami Herald.
“It gave us the best combination,” Clawson said of the decision to start Terry. “A’Lique has very good balance. He’s smart. He picked up the offense quickly. We recruited him to play center. You’ve seen him, and he has a center body type. That’s not a guard body type or a tackle body type.
“Cory Helms has a body type that he can play guard. Cory Helms has also played a whole year of football. I don’t want to move a freshman. It’s hard enough to teach a freshman one position, and so I think Cory has the benefit of experience, he’s played before, and I think it also helps A’Lique to have another guy there who can help him with the line calls, and see if the linebackers shuffle, and can take some of that pressure off of A’Lique (identifying) the defense. We really have two guys in there who can do that now, which helps us.”