College Football: It's Dorty's time to shine at Wake Forest
By David Shaw
WINSTON-SALEM — Good times, bad times, you know 22-year-old Tristan Dorty’s had his share.
A former all-state defensive end for West Rowan, he’s watched his collegiate career percolate without distinction since enrolling at Wake Forest in 2007. Now a fifth-year senior — one who fills a 6-foot-2, 253-pound frame — Dorty is primed to shoulder his way into the Demon Deacons’ VIP room.
“I’m ready for a bust-out season,” Dorty recently said, his ham-hock forearms protruding from a frayed ‘West Rowan Falcons’ muscle shirt. “I feel it inside. I’m ready to finally show what I can really do, without being hampered by anything.”
Dorty has spent three seasons meandering in and out of focus at WFU, often wondering exactly where he fit into the coaching staff’s defensive scheme. He’s gone from an undersized DE who started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2008 to an emerging sophomore who recorded 41 tackles and three sacks a year later.
Then came last season, when the Deacs endured a nine-game losing streak, went 1-7 in the ACC and routinely played hide-the-women-and-children defense. In 12 games, they yielded 55 touchdowns and more than 35 points per outing.
“It wasn’t the best of times,” said Ray McCartney, Dorty’s position coach and a long-time lieutenant of head coach Jim Grobe. “We were a young, young football team. Thirteen freshman got significant minutes. That’s how young we were.”
It painted a striking contrast to Wake’s dazzling 2006 team, the group that reached the Orange Bowl and eventually sent 11 players to the NFL. Despite Wake’s struggle, Dorty quietly began nursing the program back to health.
“Everybody was embarrassed by last season,” Dorty said. “You walk around Winston or the Wake campus and you can sense it. With the talent we had, we should have been better. Nobody wants to be associated with anything negative — and on the big stage of college football, there’s no place to hide. Everyone knows what’s going on. Last year was a blemish. I never want to feel that way again.”
Who can blame him? Dorty laid the foundation for this season by registering a career-best 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks last fall. He started the season’s first nine games before suffering a tailbone injury Oct. 30 at Maryland.
“Yeah, whenever I ran out there I could feel it,” Dorty reported. “But I didn’t want to come out of the game. So I just told the coaches I would fight through it.”
A week later, one defensive play into Wake’s home game with Boston College, the fight was over. Dorty was re-injured and missed the rest of that game and the Nov. 13 showdown at N.C. State. “That was tough, watching from the sideline,” he said. “But I couldn’t produce with the injury I had.”
He returned in a lopsided loss against Clemson, then served as a tourniquet of sorts as Wake stopped the bleeding with a season-ending 34-13 win at Vanderbilt. “Even though the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, it felt good to go out with a win,” Dorty said. “We’ve got to remember how that felt.”
It was all part of an ugly, growing-pains year that Dorty and McCartney hope will blossom into something prettier in 2011.
“We thought we were more mature,” McCartney explained. “We thought we were bigger, more athletic. We found out we weren’t.”
All of which magnifies Dorty’s role in Wake’s 3-4 defense this season. He’ll line up on the right side, with outside linebacker Kyle Wilber — a third-team, all-conference pick last year — barking signals behind him. “That’s by design,” Dorty said. “The two of us working together on the right side can raise a lot of havoc.”
There has been no “off” in Dorty’s off-season. He’s spent the past few months weightlifting and stretching his back. Earlier this summer he and teammate Josh Bush — a free safety out of nearby West Davidson — attended a physical fitness camp in Virginia with several locked-out Washington Redskins. It was former NFL linebacker Eddie Mason who gave Dorty a coveted seal-of-approval.
“After working out with him and some Redskins’ players, he told me I have what it takes to play at that level,” Dorty gushed. “That’s amazing to think about.”
A delicious thought, indeed. If there’s an NFL opportunity in Dorty’s future it’s likely to be as a linebacker. “I’ve sent many players to the NFL and very few of them get to play the position they played in college,” McCartney noted. “The NFL could care less. They just want big, strong, fast athletes.”
In the meantime Dorty has busied himself preparing to graduate with a degree in communications this December. He recently got to play news reporter and wrote a story about population change in Lexington that was published in the Winston-Salem Journal.
“I had to go interview the city manager,” he said. “But I felt a little bit on-the-spot. As soon as the person got done talking I had to ask another question. It was like being a real reporter.”
Expect Dorty to answer more questions than he poses this coming season. Already, weeks before Wake’s Sept. 1 season-opener at Syracuse, McCartney does.
“Coach Grobe is fond of saying, ‘You need a bell-cow,’” he said. “Tristan is my bell-cow, the one who is going to lead everyone home at night. We’re counting on him.”
For now Dorty remains a head’s-on-straight student-athlete, polite as an altar boy, with a huge upside. It seems the future can’t happen soon enough for him.
“I’m the rugged veteran now,” he concluded. “I have to lead the way. It’s nothing to get big-headed about because we’re all in this together. Nobody’s bigger than anybody else. That’s the approach.”
Good times, bad times? Dorty and the Deacs will spend the season seeking better times.