Wake Forest’s Walter welcomes challenges

Something about tough challenges motivates Tom Walter.

Walter spent eight seasons at George Washington. In that stint, very few observers felt the Colonials would be able to rattle together successful campaigns. But in that tenure, Walter compiled an overall record of 275-184 and is the program’s all-time wins leader.

Then came Walter’s next challenge: New Orleans.

The Privateers had one of the nation’s best all-time coaches in Ron Maestri, but Walter still had the tough chore of molding his program into a consistent winner with notable teams such as LSU, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane just down the road.

Even with those obstacles, Walter still managed to put together a good record and led the Privateers to back-to-back postseason appearances in 2007 and ’08. UNO stepped back in ’09 because of some tough personnel losses, but Walter still experienced a great deal of success with the Privateers.

Photo New coach Tom Walter hopes to overcome more obstacles in his new gig at Wake Forest.
(Wake Forest athletics)

Now Walter hopes to succeed in his next challenge: Wake Forest.

“You never know the situation until you kind of get into it, but when you’ve seen what Wake Forest has done in football the past few seasons in addition to the success they’ve had in basketball and other sports, it’s hard not to get excited about this opportunity,” Walter said. “For them to have such a commitment to athletics at a small school is so impressive to me. Ten percent of the students at the school are student-athletes. That’s astonishing.”

Some of the obstacles he will face at Wake Forest are equally astonishing.

There are institutions in the region such as Duke and North Carolina that require a hefty price tag to attend. Wake Forest is in the same boat. According to Walter, it costs each student approximately $49,000 an academic year to attend Wake Forest.

Given the fact baseball programs only have 11.7 scholarships and that precious money must be spread over 20 or more players, the Deacons are in a tough situation.

They’re not alone.

Plenty baseball programs around the country deal with hefty price tags when it comes to tuition. Many of those programs have experienced success. Vanderbilt is in the SEC and has been successful the past few seasons despite its academic costs. Rice is a perennial power and is one of the most expensive schools to attend in Texas. There’s also Stanford, which of course also has experienced a wealth of success.

Winning with those constraints isn’t easy. But it’s also not impossible.

“Managing scholarships is going to be the key to our success. We’re not going to be able to get a premium player at a 23-25 percent scholarship, so we’re at a bit of a competitive disadvantage with some other schools in the conference,” Walter said. “We can’t afford to miss some kids in the recruiting process. We’re going to have to work extra hard to find kids that are willing to come in here and work hard.”

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program and the Demon Deacons won’t approach the level they want to be at without bringing in better and more productive players. But unlike some programs in the ACC, the Deacons actually have some extra resources to utilize.

Approximately 20 percent of Wake Forest’s student enrollment calls the state of North Carolina home. So, unlike some other schools in the conference, the Demon Deacons may be able to utilize some of their national contacts on the recruiting trial. North Carolina and Duke are at least two colleges in the region able to do this.

Wake Forest’s facility renovations also are worth noting.

The Demon Deacons bought Ernie Shore Field in the past year, which previously served as the home of Winston-Salem’s minor league franchise. The ballpark holds more than 6,000 spectators. And though old in age, the Deacons are on their way to making it one of the better facilities in the ACC.

What now is dubbed as Wake Forest Baseball Park recently had a new clubhouse built, and the climate-controlled indoor batting cages are nearing completion. Also on the docket for completion in the near future are a new SportTurf field, chair back seats, outfield wall and scoreboard.

“The one thing I noticed about Wake Forest when I visited the campus and athletic facilities is that they’ve really made a strong effort to improve facilities the past few seasons,” Walter said. “Athletic director Ron Wellman has a vision to help this program take the next step on the national stage.”

Walter’s vision, meanwhile, is pretty simple.

“The first thing we’re going to sell is the education and school aspect of Wake Forest,” Walter said. “Also, recruits will know that they’re going to come in and play right off the bat. They also will have the ability to come in and be a part of something special. Once we get to where we want to be, our recruiting message will be different. But for now, that’s how it’s going to be.”

For now, though, the Deacons have their work cut out. The team finished last season 22-30 overall and were an equally poor 6-24 in the ACC.

Walter isn’t a miracle worker, but the Deacons should know where they stand in a few weeks when fall workouts commence.

“The first part of fall workouts we’re going to evaluate, as I’m not entirely sure what we have back in terms of personnel,” Walter said. “After that, our coaching staff will be very teaching oriented and will help our players make strides as individual players.”

As Walter has done in his previous stops, he’ll make-dowith what he has.

Chances are he’ll once again experience a good amount of success.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Aug 28, 2009