Wake can play football now, too

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

By Joedy McCreary

Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM — Riley Skinner knows he’ll never be confused with Tim Duncan or Chris Paul.

Still, the redshirt freshman quarterback is drawing a tiny bit of glee in thinking that maybe the Demon Deacons won’t be known only for hoops anymore.

“It’s really good to finally see people getting excited about football and not just basketball,” Skinner said.

For years, Wake Forest has been known as the school that produced basketball notables Duncan, Paul, Josh Howard, Muggsy Bogues and Billy Packer. Meanwhile, its football program largely has remained an afterthought, going to just six bowl games in its 105-year history and winning only 29 percent of their ACC games.

But after a remarkable autumn full of impressive play by second-stringers, tight finishes and how-did-that-happen victories — the No. 16 Demon Deacons are playing for their first ACC football title since 1970 and have emerged as one of the nation’s top feel-good stories.

“A lot of the things that we’ve done this year have never been done before at Wake Forest,” coach Jim Grobe said. “So there’s a special amount of satisfaction with our coaching staff and with our team that they’re breaking new ground and doing some things that are unique.”

Wake Forest (10-2, 6-2) faces No. 23 Georgia Tech (9-3, 7-1) on Saturday in the second-ever ACC championship game, giving the Demon Deacons a chance to add another victory to their school-record 10 this season and reach one of the four major bowls for the first time ever.

Grobe built Wake Forest’s program from the bottom up. And he hopes it isn’t a one-year wonder, but instead simply the first step toward sustained success.

“That’s one of the things that we stress to recruits — if you come to Wake Forest, you have a chance to make a difference,” Grobe said. “That’s basically how we’ve recruited our team — they’re not just going to be joiners, they’re going to be difference-makers.”

Through the years, the Demon Deacons appeared to always be building for tomorrow, redshirting nearly every freshman who enrolls at the tiny, private school.

Only nine of the 123 players signed by Grobe have played as true freshmen; the rest sat out a year to study the offense, build muscle in the weight room, adjust to college life and wait their turn.

Suddenly, the future arrived.

Starting quarterback Ben Mauk was injured in the opener, and Skinner stepped in and became the ACC’s rookie of the year. Running back Micah Andrews hurt his knee in September and Grobe shifted receiver Kenneth Moore to the backfield, taking advantage of his speed and knack for finding the open field.

Now the Demon Deacons hope they can keep the football chatter going even while coach Skip Prosser leads the basketball team into the heart of another ACC season.

“We don’t want it to be a one-year thing,” Skinner said. “It’s something that we want to continue doing for a lot of years to come. I think we’ve got the program headed in the right direction.”