College Football: What's teh future for Wake?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2007

By Joedy McCreary

Associated Press

MIAMI — Aaron Curry had tears in his eyes and his helmet raised skyward after losing the Orange Bowl, and his Wake Forest teammates walked toward the stands to thank their wildly cheering fans.

That’s when fellow linebacker Dominique Midgett offered the heartbroken Curry a simple, yet encouraging consolation: “We’re coming back, y’hear?”

Hey, why not? Besides, whoever thought the Demon Deacons this season could’ve made it this far?

History likely won’t judge Wake Forest’s season solely by its 24-13 bowl game loss to No. 5 Louisville. Instead, the plucky Demon Deacons achieved so much during their improbable worst-to-first season that the year can’t be considered anything but a success.

Wake Forest (11-3) set a school record for victories, finished the regular season at No. 15 in the national polls and won the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since 1970.

“I told the kids in the locker room to be really proud of what we’ve accomplished — the ACC championship is a pretty good accomplishment,” coach Jim Grobe said. “I’m proud of our seniors, and I think we’ve got the potential to be a good football team next year. So I try to let the kids know that even though we lost the football game (Tuesday night) to a really good football team in Louisville, we’ve done some pretty good stuff this year.”

And they could do even more next season — even if they can no longer take anyone by surprise.

Wake Forest returns 16 starters — eight offensive, six defensive and kicker-punter Sam Swank — and most eyes will be on the quarterback battle between breakthrough star Riley Skinner and Ben Mauk, who entered this season as the starter before suffering a season-ending injury in the opener.

Grobe has said Skinner will enter spring drills as the starter; Skinner says Mauk should have a shot at winning back his job. One thing’s for sure: Whoever wins the starting position will face plenty of expectations to repeat the magic of this season and prove the Demon Deacons weren’t a one-year wonder.

“I think the best thing about Wake Forest right now is we’ll be really, really good again next year, and I think we’ve kind of paid a lot of dues to lay a foundation,” Grobe said.

Skinner credited Wake Forest’s rise to relevance to seniors like offensive linemen Steve Vallos and Steve Justice and safety Josh Gattis.

“I can’t say enough about them. … You’ve got to thank them for establishing the foundation, national publicity and just building the program to what the coaches wanted it to be the last couple of years,” Skinner said.

Gattis, for one, was moved to tears by a rousing scene after time expired at Dolphin Stadium. The players marched toward a corner of the end zone where thousands of Wake Forest fans whooped it up like their team had won — at times even drowning out the Louisville fans’ victorious cheers.

The band played the “Here’s to Wake Forest” fight song in an appropriate salute to the improbable memories the Demon Deacons made throughout this season.

“To have our fans show that much support for us at the end truly meant so much to us as players,” Gattis said, choking back tears. “I’m kind of speechless on how that went through me, just a shock through my body.”