Clawson previews 2017

Kelly Quinlan, Managing Editor
Deacons Illustrated

Jeremy Brevard/USAToday

CHARLOTTE-- An optimistic Dave Clawson spoke to the ACC media on Thursday about the rebuild of Wake Forest football and changing the expectations year to year.

DAVE CLAWSON: Certainly at Wake Forest, we're excited to be here, and we're looking forward to building off the momentum and the improvement that we made in the '16 season. Last year was our first winning season since '08, and I thought it was very important for our players, as last year was year three in our program, that I felt we were making improvement. But it was very important that we show tangible evidence of improvement, and certainly improving by four wins, getting to a bowl, beating a 10-win team in the bowl game, I think showed that we are a very improved football team, and now our challenge is to continue to elevate the program.

We really want the standard to be that we're a team that makes a bowl every year, that that's just an annual event at Wake Forest, and we start becoming a team that competes for championships. As we head into year four, certainly the process continues, becoming a stronger, faster, more mature, more experienced team.

\Overall our experience level is better. Even though we only have nine returning seniors on our football team, this will be the first time in our time there that the amount of seniors and juniors in the two-deep outnumbers the amount of freshmen and sophomores. And so what you're seeing is all the benefits of the redshirting we've been doing, is that we have a lot of fourth year juniors, third year sophomores. These guys are all coming into their own. They're becoming stronger, they're becoming faster, and I think without question now we have more players now in our program that are good ACC players and now our challenge is just to continue to build depth.

I certainly feel the confidence level of our players has never been higher. I think after last year in the bowl win, you could see it in the bowl practices. You could see it in the spring practices. You can could see it in the offseason workouts. Having said that, we're also very aware that improvement in this conference is especially -- is difficult. You know, we are in the best division, in the best conference, in all of college football, but it's a challenge our players love, and we're certainly looking forward to getting the season kicked off when we start camp on July 27th.

Q. Coach, if you could evaluate your quarterback situation out of spring ball, and also not just playing in a bowl game but the value of winning a bowl game.

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, the first with our quarterback situation, as we go into camp, Kendall will go in as the starter, and when he got hurt last year, he was the starter. But John will get reps with the ones, and we've got to keep those guys healthy. I mean, we don't want to be a two-quarterback system. We don't want to shuttle guys in and out. Unfortunately John and Kendall, neither of those guys have been able to stay healthy the past two years. So I think we've got to keep them healthy, and they've got to keep themselves healthy, and that will play itself out.Last year we even had to play a third quarterback quite a bit. Getting Jamie Newman ready becomes important, too.In terms of winning the bowl game, I mean, it was -- I think you can't underestimate how much that meant to the confidence level of our players. Obviously getting -- when I got up here a year ago, I thought being a bowl team was a very attainable goal, but just to go to a bowl and end up with a losing record certainly wouldn't have the same feel going into the offseason coming off a winning record.You know, certainly the team we beat was a championship team that had won 10 games, that was nationally ranked, and I think that speaks to the strength of our conference, that this league prepared us for that game.Like I said earlier, I think the confidence level of our players has never been higher, but we have an older, experienced team, but they also know how difficult this conference is.

Q. Cade Carney, he's a local boy here, he graduated last year. How did he help you guys out?

DAVE CLAWSON: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you.

Q. Cade Carney is a local boy and he graduated two years ago. How did Cade Carney help you guys as a team?

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, Cade Carney, who is from Davie County and then graduated from Davidson Day, just came in mid-year, and Cade is what you look for at Wake Forest. He was a great student, very mature, high-character guy, and he picked up things right away. He gave us a physical presence in the run game that we hadn't had. Cade is one of those guys that can lower his shoulders and make a two-yard run a four-yard run. He helped us move the chains. He helped us make more first downs. He made some tough touchdown runs for us. Certainly he had a couple runs against Duke that were game-changing plays, and the touchdown he scored in the bowl game. His best football is ahead of him. Now that he has a year under his belt, just watching him in the spring, he's faster, he plays quicker because he understands the offense better, he understands protections better. He's a very underrated receiver, and I think he's just scratching the surface of what he can do and what he can be for us.

Q. When you look at your coaching staff, obviously some changes going into this year. Just what you can say about their development together and their cohesiveness going into the fall.

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, I think that's still a little bit of a work in progress. You know, the only downside of having a good year is your coaches are going to get maybe recruited at other places and have other opportunities. I certainly am going to miss Mike Elko. I hired Mike when he was 23 years old. He had been with me at Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green, and Wake Forest, but I think it speaks volumes that when Mike left, we were able to attract somebody like Jay Sawvel who had been a BCS coordinator at Minnesota, had a top 25 defense and was very highly regarded.I said this a year ago, that I view our program always as somewhat developmental, and we have recruited specifically for a defensive system that we run, so when Mike left, I did not want to blow up the system and start over. You know, we recruited to be a 4-2-5, and the reason Jay was such an attractive candidate is at Minnesota they ran a combination of a 4-2-5 and a 4-3, so we weren't misplacing personnel when he got there. We're going to do things a little bit different. He's got his wrinkles, the way he likes to do things on third down, and we'll bring his personality to our defense. But the base structure of what we do is going to be very similar because that's what fits our personnel.

Q. I want to talk about one of the seniors you mentioned, Mike Weaver, a kid who's a little bit older than a lot of seniors. How good a kicker has he become?

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, he was an All-ACC kicker last year, and I love having Mike on the team because of all the players on the team, he's the closest to my age group. Sometimes he's the only one that understands my jokes or listens to the music I like to listen to. But he had a great junior year for us. He's really improved, matured, and I think he's set to have a really good senior year for us.He had a really good year three years ago, then struggled the year before, and then last year came through for us, and I think he has a chance to, again, be the All-ACC kicker.

Q. Wendell mentioned the process, and you kind of alluded to maybe exceeding expectations last year. What is the next step in the process for you at Wake?

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, I think the next step in the process is that we don't want people to be surprised when Wake Forest goes to a bowl game. We want that to become the expectation. So it's about rising the expectation level within our program but also to a degree how you guys perceive us, that we don't want the media to be -- we want the expectation to be that this is a good, solid program, that every year they're going to be a bowl team.And then the next step is the start -- when you get to that level, now the next step is to start competing for championships. Easier said than done. But you know, I'm not going to set a limit to what we can accomplish. You know, how we've got to develop a program at Wake is different than other schools in the league. But I don't think that limits what we can accomplish. We're not where we want to be. We're certainly a lot better than three years ago, and we just got to keep the arrow going up, and I think this year's team certainly has a chance to do that. I feel top to bottom, we're stronger, faster, more mature, and we should be a better football team than we were a year ago, but I also think the schedule is more difficult. It's a more challenging schedule, so we're going to have to be better. But that's why people come to Wake is they love the challenge of playing in the games that we get week in and week out in the ACC.

Q. What are some of the biggest things you focus on trying to generate motivation for your players, especially when looking at the improvements of last season, ensuring that there's no letup in moving forward with the program?

DAVE CLAWSON: Can you say that just a little bit louder?

Q. Yeah, sorry. What are some of the things that you focus on when motivating for your players for this season after looking at the last season, ensuring that there's no letup?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, I just don't think successful people or successful programs are ever complacent. I can't imagine that Coach Swinney went to his team and said, hey, we won a national championship, now we can relax. We always talk to our players about having a championship mindset, and the championship mindset is you're always pushing yourself to get better. You're always trying to raise the bar of what you can accomplish, and we try to motivate our players individually knowing that if individually they all improve, collectively we're going to make a bigger jump.You know, a lot of the teams in our division, we want to have that big, signature win against one of the top teams in the conference. That's something that we still haven't accomplished, and that is certainly a big goal for this year is you win one of those games, you're like, wow, Wake got it done. And we've been close. We've had leads in the fourth quarters, but we haven't been able to finish it, and our goal is to get in those games, to be competitive, and to find ways to win them.

Q. Following up on your comment that you play in the best division in the best conference, for the last eight, nine years, Florida State and Clemson have occupied the penthouse. Do you see a day -- the rest of you have all gotten better. Do you see a day when someone else climbs into the penthouse, and at Wake Forest, how much ground do you have to make up to be in that position?

DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, we have to make up ground because we haven't beat those two schools certainly since I've been here and it's been a while. When you say, geez, do you get upset that Florida State and Clemson get all the attention, they've earned that attention. They deserve that attention. They've won National Championships, they've won the ACC. Do I envision a day that we can be there? Absolutely. Now, how we do that isn't going to be the formula they use. We've got to have our Wake Forest formula. But that is our goal. I mean, if we set a goal any lower than that, we're doing every player in our program a disservice.

Q. You talk about that depth that you now have. Does that allow you to be more creative, do things differently? Were these things on a timeline that you had set for yourself when you first got to wake?

DAVE CLAWSON: You know, I think any time you take over a program that's struggled, that there's a blueprint. We have played -- this is just -- in our three years there, I believe, I believe we've had 10 players sign NFL contracts. Nine of those players have been defensive players. The one player on offense was a graduate transfer. So when we got to Wake, certainly the talent level we inherited on defense was significantly better than what we inherited on offense. Because of that, we've been a better defense. We've been a lot younger on offense. We have played at times conservatively to make sure our defense wasn't going to play too many snaps, and that was the way to stay in games. I think we're finally at a point that the talent level on the offensive side of the ball has caught up with the defense. For two years our practices were almost non-competitive. The offense would struggle to make a first down. Last year it became more competitive. The spring it was back and forth.So what I'm most excited about is I think the overall development of our program is better. I think on offense for the first time, you're looking at a lineup that isn't freshmen and sophomores. Even last year I think there was a game that we started nine freshmen and sophomores on offense. You know, and even though Cam Serigne going into camp is the only senior, the amount of fourth year juniors, third year sophomores, kids that are now 20 and 21 years old on our offense, we haven't had that in three years. That's the thing I'm most excited about is you can become more creative when kids understand the system, they've played, and they're physically capable of executing the things that you need them to do. And we're certainly further ahead with that than we've ever been, but it's no different than a year ago. I can get up here after 3-9, 3-9 and say we're better. Until we do it, it's just words.

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