Rivals.com ranks Wake Forest's National Signing Day class of 19 commitments as last in the ACC, but Jim Grobe and his coaching staff are confident that they met team needs and recruited well to their schemes.
Despite the Demon Deacons poor class rating Wake has never had more than 12 three-star recruits on a National Signing Day until this year when it inked 16.
"That makes me really, really nervous, because we've won a bunch of games with guys with no stars," Grobe said. "I'm a little nervous that we've got too many stars coming to Wake Forest this year, but we'll take them and work with them."
From 2002-2006 the Deacs never finished with a class ranking higher than No. 10 in the ACC. However, Wake Forest won 28 games from 2006-2008, including an ACC championship crown and made Orange Bowl appearance in 2006.
Grobe does not decide who Wake brings in. He leaves that to his coaches.
"Our coaches have one priority and that priority is character," Grobe said. "We want a kid that has great character, that's going to make us proud, and of course we've got to have a kid that we feel like can graduate from Wake Forest and then we've got to have a good football player. With that being said then our coaches go out and they go into their recruiting areas, and we look for the best players that we think will fit at Wake Forest that we can find. What typically happens is we'll get tons of video back on a lot of different players, sometimes hundreds of players for one position, but the guy that's going to coach them, the position coach is the only one that can give a thumbs up, because he's got to coach that guy."
That faithfulness Grobe and his staff have shown to their recruiting formula may be considered unorthodox by many, but it has served them well. In their 11 years at the helm in Winston-Salem Wake Forest has had five winning seasons, made five bowls, and won three.
Nothing appears to have changed when one takes a good look at the incoming crop of talent, and that may be for the best.
Deacons Illustrated breaks down Wake's 2012 recruiting class with expert analysis from the coaches:
The Demon Deacons lost four starters up front to graduation, including All-ACC left guard Joe Looney who was a four-year starter. However, Wake Forest added three offensive linemen to its fold in Will Smith, Joel Suggs and Ty Hayworth.
"I thought we brought in three pretty good ones last year, and with these guys adding to that group, I think we've really helped our depth," Grobe said. "We've always kind of wanted to have 15 offensive linemen that we're working with and we haven't really had that. We're going to come back in the fall and have a really good group."
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Smith as a three-star recruit and the No. 25 overall prospect in Virginia.
In only his second year of playing organized football Smith earned First Team All-State and First Team All-Conference honors on both sides of the ball, and was voted Defensive MVP for his team this season. He recorded 80 tackles and five sacks this season to help lead Christchurch School to a state championship crown and a 12-0 record.
Steed Lobotzke on Smith
"He was a basketball kid that just refused to play football for years and years until he came to camp with us. He came to camp as a defensive lineman before his junior year, and we said, 'Hey come on back next year and try out as an offensive lineman. That's where you need to be focusing.' This kid is learning how to play o-line. He was about the fastest offensive lineman I had in all four one-day camps we had last year. I really like that. I like the athleticism. He's got nothing but upside in front of him as he gets into being an offensive lineman. I'm really excited about Will and his potential."
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Suggs as a two-star recruit. He was a major component to a Randleman team that made it to the state playoffs, and finished with a 9-3 record.
Brian Knorr on Suggs
"We were fortunate enough to get Joel in before his junior year and before his senior year. Coach Lobo had a great evaluation, loved Joel, his competitiveness and the great thing about he was the first guy to commit to us last year about a month from now in March he committed. A lot of kids at that time they're not real mature. You're not real sure how much development you're going to get out of them, and one thing about Joel was he got better and better each game, and ended up being an All-State performer, did an outstanding job in the North-South Carolina Shrine Bowl, and I think he'll be a definite great addition for Coach Lobo and his offensive line."
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Hayworth as a three-star recruit. He finished the season with a blocking grade of 92-percent.
Lobotzke on Hayworth
"I had Ty in camp before his junior year and before his senior year. He's from Eastern Tennessee. He's in a triple-option offense, so they just run-block every snap. It's tough to get an eval on him, especially if your team is throwing for 3,000 yards, like we did this last year. All I had him do for two years was pass-blocking drills. He's really light on his feet. He's a dancing bear. He can really pass-pro. In fact he was one of the best pass-pro guys I had in camp."
"He's such a tiny kid, just too tiny to play this game of college football. They said the same thing about Steve Vallos. He was a First Team All-American for us. They said it about Steve Justice, because he was only 6-3. He was a First Team All-American for us, so Ty has got the bar set high for him as a 6-foot-3 offensive lineman. He's expected to be an All-American now. I want to play Ty at left guard. I will start him out at left guard, but if he comes in and he's just the best pass-pro guy we have I'll put him out at tackle."
Wake Forest is solid at the quarterback position for at least the next five years, especially with Tanner Price in the gun for two more seasons.
Price, a two-year starter completed 253 of 422 passes for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns, and was only intercepted six times this season. The staff also has high hopes for highly touted the redshirt freshman Kevin Sousa, but the addition of Tyler Cameron was a welcomed one.
The Jupiter (Fla.) product graduated from high school in December, and began classes Jan. 18 at Wake Forest. He will be eligible for spring practice.
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Cameron as a three-star recruit, the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 51 overall prospect in Florida.
Cameron completed 86 of his 189 passes for 1,453 yards and 12 touchdowns, and was intercepted six times. He also rushed 102 times for 379 yards and six touchdowns.
Ray McCartney on Cameron
"He's a real versatile athlete. He's been timed at a 4.6. They call him Tebow, but he can throw. Don't get me wrong. We think Tebow is a great football player. He just doesn't have a great arm. [Cameron is] a very versatile kid, really tough-minded kid. He ended up with 26 offers. He had LSU, Michigan State, Tennessee. We thought we were out of it, but bottom line is kids commit so early nowadays at the quarterback position especially that we just hung in there, and those schools filled up, so we were one of the last schools standing. He was down to about 10, 11 schools at the end, because he wanted to take his official visits. We hung in there and were very fortunate at the end."
Josh Harris began last season as the starter, but lingering hampstring problems forced him out. Brandon Pendergrass became the starter after Grobe realized he could not rely on Harris, and the senior from Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) filled in admirably. He rushed for a team-leading 823 yards and nine touchdowns on 188 carries.
Without Harris the Deacs lacked game-breaking speed at running back, so with four regular season games left and bowl bid on the line Grobe removed true freshman Orville Reynolds' redshirt tag. The speedy Reynolds provided a good change of pace from the bruising style of Pendergrass.
Now with Pendergrass graduated Wake need is in need of a running back who can shoulder the load as an every down player.
"We love Orville Reynolds," Grobe said. "We think DeAndre Martin can be really, really talented. I'm just hopeful it was an off year for Josh Harris, and he'll bounce back and be the guy we want him to be. He doesn't have any bigger fans than us. We want him to be the guy. He's working hard right now. If those guys stay healthy we're great, but if they don't then we've got problems."
Enter Joshua Wilhite. Rivals.com rates the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Wilhite as a three-star recruit. The Missouri City, Texas product rushed for 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season, and eclipsed the 2,000-yard barrier in the state playoffs to help lead Hightower to a state championship appearance and a 13-3 record. He did all of this on a bad knee.
Steve Russ on Wilhite
"In the middle of the second game of his junior year blew out his ACL. I brought the film back to Coach Mitch, and I said, 'Coach Mitch this is all I got, but I really like what I see. People love him. I really think this guy could be special,' and he goes, 'Well how is the knee doing?' And I said, 'Well coach it's been six months since he's had his surgery and he's running the 600-meter already,' and he goes, 'Well it sounds like the knee is doing pretty good.'"
"We ended up offering Josh, and we were one of the few people that said, 'Hey look we believe in you. We know you're going to work hard. We know you're going to come back of this knee really well.' That moved him. It made him say, 'Hey look you guys believe in me and I love your school. I love your education. I'm going to commit to Wake Forest University, and his coach said, 'Hey Josh, look you got a chance to maybe run for a couple thousand yards, have a great senior year and there's going to be a lot of people come calling on you. Are you going to stay with Wake Forest?' And he said, 'Yes, I'm going to stay with Wake Forest, because they believed in me.'"
"He's from the south Houston area, and the type of competition that they play there is amazing. The second game of the year he tweaked the knee again, needed to clean it up, had to have another surgery, just a real minor deal, but the knee kept swelling up on him, gave him some problems. They said, 'Hey look you should probably get this done.' His doctor is the Houston Texans doctor. 'You know, get you healed up and let you go on to college.' So he called me and was like, 'Coach what do I do? I don't want to lose my scholarship.' I said, 'Don't worry about your scholarship. What do you want to do?' He said, 'Coach I want to play.' I said, 'Well can you play?' He goes, 'Heck yeah I can play,' so he went through the entire season banged up with the knee, had to get surgery at the end of the year. We really like that toughness. I think he's a power runner. He's a speed runner. He can make you miss. He's a very versatile guy. We're very excited about him."
All-ACC receiver Chris Givens elected to turn pro following a stellar redshirt junior season that saw him break Demon Deacon great Rick Proehl's record for the most receiving yards in a single season with 1,330 yards on 83 catches. Givens also finished with a team-leading nine touchdown receptions.
Wake also lost a late bloomer in redshirt senior Danny Dembry who caught 36 passes for 423 yards and a touchdown in his final campaign with the Deacs.
Michael Campanaro returns to lead what still seems to be a strong wide receiving corps.
It grew stronger when Wake Forest added two tall targets in Jared Crump and Jonathan Williams.
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Crump as a three star recruit. He caught 43 passes for 904 yards and 13 touchdowns, as a key part in Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail's run to the semifinals of the state playoffs and 12-2 finish.
Tom Elrod on Crump
"He's got good speed, great hands, great ball-control, and made some big plays for them. One of the things we look for when we recruit we like them to be from successful teams where winning is important. These guys made it to the state semi-finals. [They] probably should've won, lost a tight game. Jared made several plays in their playoff run, including a huge 58-yard reception in the second round game to help set up the winning score."
Williams, who is from Atlanta played at Mays High School. He caught 56 passes for 783 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-5, 170-pound Williams as a three-star recruit. Mays made an appearance in the state playoffs, and finished with an 8-3 record.
Lonnie Galloway Williams and Crump
"Reggie Austin, who was a former Deac, he had a influence of us having a chance to land this kid [Williams]. The best thing about Jonathan is he's down home, from a great family. His daddy is a truck driver. His mother is also in the school system in the Atlanta area."
"They lost in the first round of the playoffs, but he had eight catches for 170 yards in that game. I'm counting on between him and Jared [Crump] to pick up where Chris [Givens] left off, so out of the two of those kids we have coming in I plan on of the two and maybe hopefully both of them to step in and lead us."
Wake Forest reloaded with Zach Gordon and Anthony Rook after Cameron Ford and Andrew Parker graduated.
Both bring different strengths, Gordon as an inline blocker and Rook with his receiving.
Gordon was a four-year starter at Carrollton (Ga.). As a senior he caught 10 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, which is impressive for a tight end.
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Gordon as a three-star recruit.
Carrollton advanced all the way to the third round of the state playoffs to finish with an 11-2 record.
Knorr on Gordon
"Zach was a very, very highly recruited tight end out of one of the best programs in Georgia. Zach came to campus three different times. With recruiting from now till next Signing Day you try your hardest to get guys on campus. Zach and his parents did an outstanding job of identifying over 20 offers where they want to go to. In the summer they went from Stanford, schools in the Southeastern Conference, went to a ton of schools and came up to Wake Forest last. Fortunate for us it was late July. The whole staff was here. His family, Dr. Gordon and his wife spent a lot of time with Coach Grobe, and probably the best thing about this visit was he had dinner with Tanner Price, so that didn't hurt."
Rook caught 10 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown this season. Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Rook as a three-star recruit.
Lobotzke on Rook and the evolution of the tight end position in Wake's offense
"We got on Anthony early. His coach played with Keith Henry. Keith Henry had this school [in] Greenville over on the coast, so we got on him early. We got him on campus. We got a junior highlight on him and loved it, loved the way he could run, loved the athleticism. They detached him a lot, let him do wide receiver stuff as a big kid playing standup. I like that ability, that athleticism."
"We want to move the offense to more of a standup tight end, H-back type offense. He still puts his hand in the dirt and plays. He still does that too. He came here for a basketball game last February. Just about a couple of months later [he] just decided this was the place he wanted to be, had a lot of other opportunities, but just felt good about the size of the campus, felt good about the academics and felt good about a chance to play."
Stay tuned for part two of the Signing Day Scouting Reports, as Deacons Illustrated gives an in-depth look at Wake Forest's incoming defensive players.
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