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Wake welcomes celebration

By Joedy McCreary

Associated Press

RALEIGH — Ron Wellman was never so happy to see the Wake Forest campus covered in toilet paper.

The Demon Deacons had just defeated Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, and the students revived the school’s time-honored tradition of “rolling” the campus quad by smothering the trees and grass with toilet tissue.

“It looked like a blizzard,” the Wake Forest athletic director said Monday. “Not a blade of grass to be seen.”

There are plenty of reasons for Wellman to celebrate. The 15th-ranked Demon Deacons (11-2) won the ACC for the first time since 1970 and capped a remarkable worst-to-first regular season with an invitation to play No. 5 Louisville (11-1) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2 — just the seventh bowl in school history and its first January bowl since 1949.

It’s a huge achievement for the private university in Winston-Salem ranks among the smallest schools in Division I-A with just more than 4,000 undergraduates.

The relatively small number of alumni has always made it difficult for the school to build a fan base, but Wellman hopes the school can sell its allotment of 17,500 bowl tickets.

“We’ve got a challenge there, but we think our people will respond,” Wellman said. “There’s no better place to be this time of year than Miami.”

Wellman also expects a noticeable spike in applications for enrollment. He said it’s no coincidence that Wake Forest received its highest surge of applications in 1995 and 1996 when the men’s basketball team won consecutive ACC titles behind future NBA All-Star Tim Duncan.

The Orange Bowl will be the Demon Deacons’ sixth straight nationally televised game.

“All you have to do is look at the exposure the university has received,” Wellman said. “That type of exposure, you just can’t buy. … People ask how much that is worth. There is no answer for that because that time is unavailable.”

Wake Forest, the preseason pick to finish last in the Atlantic Division, wound up clinching the division title on the last week of the season, then beat the Yellow Jackets 9-6 in the league title game to seal a spot in the Orange Bowl.

The Demon Deacons have played in only two other January bowls, beating South Carolina in the inaugural Gator Bowl in 1946 and losing to Baylor three years later in the now-defunct Dixie Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Naturally, the Demon Deacons’ surprising success this season has led to speculation about the status of their coach.

ACC coach of the year Jim Grobe is in his sixth year at the school. He’s in the fourth year of a 10-year contract signed in 2003 that’s believed to pay him about $987,000 annually.

Wellman declined to say whether the contract includes specific incentive bonuses for conference titles and BCS appearances, saying only that “we have a bonus structure in place.”

Grobe has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Alabama job but has emphatically and repeatedly insisted that he is staying at Wake Forest.

Wellman declined to say whether Crimson Tide officials have contacted him about Grobe, saying “that’s for Alabama to say. … That gets into their search, and I’m not going to do that.”

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