Cozmik Croquet

Occasionally a well-meaning friend who knows my passion for politics will ask if I ever considered running for elective office.

These are obviously well-meaning friends who have never seen my starring role in the production of Henry’s Hawaiian Open.

Some candidates might be hiding a skeleton or two in their closet. Even the most cursory of opposition research would unearth that boneyard in my basement.

The time was back in the daze, circa 1980.

The place was The Southern Part of Heaven, a.k.a Chapel Hill.

The sport was one we – and by we I mean folks like Moose and Crag T. and Rico and Gary O. and T.C. – invented and promulgated among all the freaks and ne’er-do-wells and layabouts and hippies and eccentrics and thrill-seekers and free spirits we were hanging out with at the time.

You know, our fast friends.

We called the sport Cozmik Croquet, and like so many great inventions, it was borne out of necessity. We were bored, and we desperately needed some fun. There was also my broken-down Ford Econoline van (with the legend Cherokee-Bryson City Florists emblazoned on the sides) that was stuck in the driveway of a house we were in the process of getting evicted from, and something just had to be done.

We considered burying the wheels in concrete and leaving it as a souvenir, but wised up in time to realize that would probably emboss us on the permanent record of any realtor or landlord in North Carolina or any of its neighboring states. The obvious solution was to push it over a cliff, but there were no cliffs nearby.

So then we came up with the grand idea of throwing a Cozmik Croquet Tournament and giving the van away as first prize. Thus came to be our founding organization, The Intergalactic Federation of Croquet and Cozmik Awareness (IFCCA).

We weren’t good for much, but we were really, really good at promulgating. We staged our first tournament, the Jones Street Invitational in April of 1975 and drew around 50 or 60 curiosity seekers. But Chapel Hill was a tight scene in those days, and before long word of our shenanigans had spread through Cat’s Cradle, and He’s Not Here and The Mad Hatter and the Cave and up and down Franklin Street, to the extent that each tournament attracted more and more attendees.

It also drew more and more attention from the wrong places, which is why holding these events at our homes was not a good idea. The morning after the second tournament, The Littlejohn Invitational, we had a note pinned to our back door demanding we vacate the premises by the first of the month.

And no one who was there will ever forget the scene at The Second Annual Jones Street Invitational, held out in Hudsonville on Mount Gilead Church Road in Chatham County. That’s when the incensed landlord and his even more apoplectic wife drove their truck up to our first wicket right during the middle of the bedlam and gave us all of one hour to collect our wickets and stakes and mallets and balls and beer cans and whiskey bottles and get the hell off their property. To drive the point home, our landlord had his buddy, the county sheriff, to park in full view to make damn sure we did what we were told.

It should go without saying that we were, once again, house-hunting by the first of the month.

What saved the sport was the bright idea of slipping unannounced onto campus and driving our wickets and stakes into one of Carolina’s many athletic fields. By then, very few of us were enrolled, but somehow we got away with appropriating the grounds for several years – long enough for the sport to grow and flourish and become the local rage our good friend Bob Landau of Maceo Productions documented with such aplomb in the movie linked above.

Within three or four years, in fact, the ensuing rage compelled us to limit the field to the first 96 Croqueteers who showed up for registration. Otherwise we couldn’t finish the tournament before having to, once again, illuminate the greensward with the light of cars positioned strategically around the perimeter.

We would stage anywhere from four to five tournaments a season, and the battles for supremacy among the myriad teams (The Jones Street Boys, The Poker-Face Crybabies, The Pair-A-Dice Palookas, Henry’s Heroes, The Rock Candy Mountaineers, The Stoned Rangers, Dee’s Boys, The Charlotte Croquet Club, Uranus B Team, Mallets Aforethought, The Media-Ogres, The Sweet Nothings, Fupped Ducks, Reckless Abandon, et. al.) remain legendary in the deep recesses of those burned-out, overtaxed medial temporal lobes still functioning in some capacity today.

Every bit as heated was the competition for Best Dressed – Male and Female. The sport, if nothing else, was a boon to all the Consignment and Thrift Stores in the Greater Spudtowne Statistical Metropolitan Area.

The tournament immortalized in Henry’s Hawaiian, as you can see, was indeed concluded under headlights, and I’m proud to say, was won by my brother Tom. T.C. always was a great mudder.

Way too many of the characters having the time of their lives are no longer with us today. But in watching the movie again last night, I was struck by how many of the people you see actually overcame their sordid past to lead productive, laudable and, in some cases, quite prominent lives.

I won’t out them. Their secret is safe with me and the hundreds of other Croqueteers they crossed mallets with on the fields of Cozmik Combat those many years ago.

Year by year, relocation by relocation, mortgage by mortgage, new job by new job, new kid by new kid – you know, LIFE – eventually took its toll. But Cozmik Croquet, like Kudzu, can never be completely eradicated.

Even today we’ll have a tournament or two and there will be anywhere from a dozen or two old Hippies show up to remind everyone and ourselves just how crazy we’ve always been and how much fun life can be when you don’t take it, or yourselves, too seriously.

And if that means I’ll never hold an elective office, I consider that a small price to pay.

Where Have You Gone Mike Elko?

Wake managed to be at least occasionally competitive in Dave Clawson’s first two seasons as head coach because of its defense.

If the Deacons become the team Clawson envisioned for his fifth season, it will be in spite of their defense.

What appeared to be the case in an unsettling non-conference victory over Towson was all but confirmed in Thursday’s sobering 41-34 home loss to Boston College.

Sure there are issues with the offense. Sam Hartman, playing like the freshman he is, threw two interceptions – the fourth and fifth of his three-game career – while completing only 20 of 45 passes. And an offensive line missing mainstay Justin Herron (torn knee ligament) allowed Hartman to get sacked four times and be harassed throughout.

Yet still the Deacons amassed 512 yards en route to four touchdowns and two field goals, which should be enough to win most ACC games. What made the loss so sobering is the realization that Wake won’t be winning many ACC games this season playing the caliber of defense that was played against BC.

Nobody, not even Dave Clawson, should have been surprised to see AJ Dillon, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, carve 185 rushing yards out of the Wake defense. The Deacons may not face a better back this season.

But what had to gall Clawson was watching Anthony Brown, almost certainly not the best quarterback Wake will face, shred the Deacons defense for 304 yards and five touchdowns. Clawson, to his credit, is not one to hide his feelings on such matters, and his post-game message came across loud and clear.

Jay Sawvel, the second-year defensive coordinator, was publicly put on notice. And though I’ve never met Lyle Hemphill, who coaches safeties, or Ryan Crawford, the cornerbacks coach, I would hazard to guess that neither is feeling an abundance of job security along about now.

Much was made – much of it, indeed, by Clawson himself – about how bare the offensive cupboard was when Clawson took over from Jim Grobe. And Clawson and Warren Ruggiero have gotten all the credit they deserve for building a potent ACC offensive from scratch.

But what shouldn’t be forgotten is how solid the defense was in Clawson’s first two 3-9 seasons, solid enough to rank ninth and seventh in the conference in yards allowed. Grobe’s defensive coaches recruited well enough to leave Clawson with the likes of Brandon Chubb, Tylor Harris, Kevin Johnson, Brad Watson, Marquel Lee, Duke Ejiofor and Josh Banks, and Mike Elko coached them well enough to earn both huge accolades and a fat contract at Notre Dame.

And Wake can’t be faulted for losing a coach that not even Notre Dame could keep. Texas A&M, recently crowned by Forbes as the most lucrative cash cow in the NCAA stockyard, lured Elko away for what was reported to be $1.8 million a season – the highest salary of any college defensive coordinator.

We all had to wonder what the impact would be when Elko departed, and now we all have to wonder if the answer has become all too apparent.

As Clawson stressed, the defensive problems did not appear overnight. The Deacons played some pretty strong defense early last season, but became fodder for opposing offensive coordinators down the stretch of an 8-5 campaign.

Since FSU managed only 270 yards in an odd 26-19 victory on Sept. 30, 2017, the last 11 opponents have plundered Wake for an average of 31.1 points and 521 yards a game. BC, a team has appears to have vaulted the Deacons in the ACC Atlantic Division pecking order, became the sixth team over that stretch to pile up at least 500 yards against Wake.

Towson, a team picked to finish 10th in the 12-team Colonial Athletic Association, exposed Wake with 410 yards and 20 points.

Grobe caught flak from certain elements of the Wake fan base for his perceived loyalty to his assistants. Clawson all but insulated himself from the same criticism after jettisoning Adam Scheier, the special teams coach he couldn’t say enough nice things about early on, after the third season.

Our family loves the movie “Burn After Reading,’’ and we’ve laughed ever since it came out about how Linda (Frances McDormand) absolutely demanded that the goofball Chad (Brad Pitt) be a “Can-Do Guy.’’

Dave Clawson has proven in his coaching career to be a “Can-Do Guy.’’ It’s got him to where he is today, as head coach at Wake.

But can this “Can-Do Guy’’ do enough to shore up a defense that, last seen, laid in tatters on the artificial turf of BB&T Field? I imagine the fate of his fifth season at Wake defends on it, and I imagine no one knows that better than Dave Clawson.

MAGA?

For the past two or three years we’ve all seen all these folks walking around sporting red baseball caps brandishing the letters MAGA.

Being from time to time a little slow on the uptick, I had to ask. Without too much ribbing, a friend informed me that letters signify Make America Great Again.

As someone who has spent all 66 of his years in this wonderful country, the greatest country in the history of mankind, I’m all about the first three words of that slogan. I’m down with that noble sentiment. Down to the ground.

Let’s all do what we can to make our country as great as it can be. It’s our patriotic duty.

My problem, though, was with the fourth word, the Again. It confused me when I first encountered the slogan and confuses me still today.

Again? As in when?

Take back what you said about taking our country back,

Like you want us to forget all that history

You’re trying so hard to redact.

The same folks wearing the red MAGA baseball caps have been know to chant “Let’s take our country back.’’ They’ve been chanting it every since our current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue arrived on the national political scene.

At the risk of redundancy, I have to ask. Where do they want to take our country back to?

Give me a time. Give me a date. Give me a place.

We’ve come so far together,

Of that we should be proud

And here you’re trying to turn back time

Being all angry, hateful and loud.

Those in the red-hat movement remain vague about exactly when and where they’re talking about, perhaps intentionally so. At the risk of assigning motives where there are none, it’s not hard to imagine they’re referencing a sort of idealized 1950’s/60s Ozzie and Harriet America in black and white to which so many people look back in such fond fashion these days.

And if you’re a white heterosexual male, (such as yours truly) and in particular, a rich heterosexual white male (which I’m truly not) then that was indeed, without a doubt, a exceedingly fortuitous time to be living in our great country.

Because you were indisputably, and without peers, at the top of the heap, the absolute master of all you surveyed. Good times.

Take back what you said about taking our country back,

Could that be back from anyone who happens to be

Brown, red, yellow or black?

The question I’ve never heard those in the red-hat movement answer is what about those Americans who aren’t white heterosexual males? Should they be taken back to wherever it is — for the supposed good of our society and country — we’re all supposed to return?

As one who spent his career in journalism, I was trained to seek and even demand specificity. And it’s frustrating that nothing about this chant “Let’s take our country back’’ is in the least bit specific.

When are they talking about? Give me a time. Give me a date. Give me a place.

Look around we’re all Americans

You may not like it but that’s the deal.

But only by getting past the fear and hate

Can you really see what is real.

The Ozzie and Harriet days of the 1950s/60s weren’t, by most accounts, such a great time in America for anyone who happened to seek love and shelter from the storm with one of their own sex. The closet was overflowing, and to be caught outside was to all but ensure public censure, if not derision or even bodily harm.

And they weren’t great days for many women, especially considering how few there were walking the corridors of power. I’m old enough to remember how the boast of many men was that they kept their “woman’’ barefoot and in the kitchen.

Or do we want to return to 1919, the blink of an eye in the overall arc of history, to when women weren’t even entrusted with the vote? Is this when the red hat brigade is talking about?

Take back what you said about taking our country back

It’s time we all had a say,

Lord knows you’ve had your crack.

I’ll keep watching and listening for any specificity, for anyone to give me a time and a date and a place they want our country to return to. But while I’m waiting, I’ll provide specifics of my own.

The time: Sunday, 10:22 a.m.

The date: Sept. 15, 1963.

The place: 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala.

For it was then and there that four school children, Cynthia Wesley (age 14), Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carole Robertson (age 14) and Denise McNair (age 11) were buried in the basement beneath the rubble resulting from a bomb planted by white supremacists emboldened by their governor proclaiming “Segregation now, segregation forever.’’ Four young innocents bombed out of the basement of their home church, while services were ensuing above.

And any notion this was an isolated incident has to confront the truth. Such atrocities were so common that the city was given the nickname Bombingham. And although it later came to light that J. Edgar Hoover, the grand poobah of the FBI, identified the four perpetrators as early as 1965, no charges were brought against anyone until 1977, when, at long last, Robert Chambliss was convicted of first-degree murder of McNair.

It took another 24 years before two more of the assassins, Thomas Edward Blanton, Jr., and Bobby Cherry were convicted of four counts and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A fourth alleged assassin, Herman Cash, died in 1994 without the American judicial system ever laying a glove on him.

Is this where we want to take America back, back to a day when school children were blown out of the basement of their church for one reason and one reason only – because they were black?

If we’re really the land of freedom,

If we take a stand for liberty

We’ll take that stand together

Or we’ll never be all we should be.

Notice, if you will, that I’ve yet to even bring up the greatest injustices of our past, how the forebears of some of us brought the forebears of others across the Atlantic ocean in chains and put them to work in our fields and homes as slaves, to be bought and sold as chattel. We even had a ruling in 1857 from the highest court in our land that anyone who arrived in this country as slaves – or whose ancestors arrived in this country as slaves – could never be America citizens and thus had no standing in our judicial system.

Take America Back? To that?

Nor have I broached the rather sensitive subject of the genocide of the native American population, how so many were uprooted from their ancestral homeland and carted off to subsist on some government appointed reservation. My mother Frances Cooper Collins, of Cherokee blood and who grew up on the Cherokee reservation in the mountains of North Carolina, taught all her children to curse the ground that Andrew Jackson ever walked on.

And she had good reason.

So why don’t we to the Angels,

Of our better natures appeal?

And instead of building walls,

We should be making laws that heal.

There’s a reflex by some of the most narrow-minded among us to brand every criticism of our great nation as anti-Americanism. You’ve heard it, how anyone who has the temerity to bring up past inequities just hates America.

What will surely not come as a surprise to anyone reading this is that I see things from the opposite perspective. To highlight where we’ve been (slavery, genocide, bigotry) and to see how far we’ve come is a testament to just how great our country really is.

Citizens are no longer bought and sold as chattel. Our law enforcement no longer turns a blind eye when citizens are massacred because of their skin color or sexual persuasion.

All that is the best reason I know to celebrate, to be proud, to give us hope and encouragement as we move forward together into a brave new world.

But we’ve got to do it together, or we’ve failed this great test of of history known as democracy.

Take America back?

Give me a time, give me a date, give me a place.

The Voice on Hartman We’ve Yet to Hear

Sam Hartman has been enrolled at Wake for eight months, during which time he has begun his pursuit of a degree, competed in spring practices and preseason camp, won the starting quarterback position and led the Deacons to a season-opening 23-17 overtime victory at Tulane

He’s an intriguing story, and like most of you, I’m sure, I want to know all I can about him.

So I perused every preseason profile of Hartman I could find. Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest did themselves proud, but the most detailed and compelling piece was written by Frankie Mansfield of the Moultrie News – which makes sense given that Mansfield obviously goes back with Hartman to his days at nearby Oceanside Collegiate Academy.

The more I read about Sam Hartman and his story, the more I want to know.

In all these thousands of words, I’ve gotten a take from around a dozen people. Those I’ve seen quoted on who Sam Hartman is and what he’s about are his father (Mark), his mother (Lisa), his brother (Joe), his high school coach (Chad Grier) his Pop Warner coach (Mark Maye), two high school teammates (Jonathan Jeffries and Gerald Shephard), two college teammates (Cade Carney and Ryan Anderson), his offensive coordinator (Warren Ruggiero) and his head coach (Dave Clawson).

The one voice I’ve yet to hear on who Sam Hartman is and what he’s about – at least not pertaining to his time since he arrived at Wake – is that of Sam Hartman.

I would have wondered if Sam Hartman is perhaps mute, but having spent my career around college football and college football coaches, I knew better.

Sam Hartman is not mute. But he has been muted.

Everyone gets to weigh in on Sam Hartman, it seems, except Sam Hartman.

The decision that Hartman, as a freshman, is not available to the media is that of Clawson. In my three plus years of covering Dave Clawson and getting to know him, I never considered him a bad guy. He’s certainly a really good coach, and Wake is fortunate to have him.

I have no doubt that Clawson, in his heart, is doing what he feels is best for Hartman and the team as a whole.

That said, by this time in Hartman’s career, he has plunged into a heavy academic load, competed day after day in practice, faced down a Tulane team intent on administering grave bodily harm and, I’m sure, from time to time stared down grizzled teammates who have tested the bounds of his authority in the huddle.

Dave Clawson has entrusted Sam Hartman to do all this, and yet he has not entrusted Sam Hartman to talk with Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest.

It’s the instincts of every college football coach I’ve known save one to control all he can possibly control. And I can see how that would be a sound philosophy, given all a college football coach is charged with controlling.

But there’s also the countless examples of coaches getting so carried away by their authority that they lose perspective of what is right and what is wrong, and what is fair and what is unfair. The question I ask here, again, is it right and fair for everyone to have their say about Sam Hartman except Sam Hartman?

I’ve gathered that the media moratorium on talking with Wake’s starting quarterback will prevail through the month of September, during which time the Deacons will play Towson, Boston College, Notre Dame and Rice. If he throws a touchdown pass, or maybe an interception, the media covering Wake will be left to ask others why Hartman did what he did and the effect it had on the game.

Meanwhile, the media relations department has one of the best stories in the ACC to promote, without any input from the story himself.

Will the pressure build to make Hartman available, and if so, where will it come from? Will the ESPN crew assigned to cover the Wake-Boston College game quietly accept Clawson’s edict, or will it cajole the Deacons into an interview with, again, the starting quarterback?

And when Sam Hartman is finally made available, will Conor O’Neill and Les Johns – the guys who have faithfully covered the program since spring – get the first crack, or will they have to wait in line behind those with more clout?

Not a day has passed since last August that I miss being a sportswriter. I was done, just as I’m sure those I dealt with were done with me.

The Man Behind Hartman’s Debut

Warren Ruggiero is a guy who, regretfully, I never got to know that well while still gainfully employed as the Deacons’ beat reporter during Ruggiero’s first three seasons as Wake’s offensive coordinator.

I tried, because I found him to be an intriguing character so unimposing in stature and wholly unassuming in bearing as to to appear to have wandered on to the practice field out of idle curiosity instead of professional responsibility. Those who didn’t know better might think him a Graduate Assistant or one of the multitudes of underlings and/or aides all major-college football programs have running all around these days.

Think Radar O’Reilly of the M*A*S*H television series. To my twisted mind, that was Warren Ruggiero.

His countenance was one of contemplation so deep as to be mistaken for bewilderment. I occasionally saw him josh or cut-up with a player or another coach, but not often. He struck me as a seriously serious kind of individual.

And, at least in our dealings, he was terribly reticent. He was never discourteous or antagonistic. He just didn’t seem to want to give up much of himself, and even less of what the Deacons had in store offensively for the upcoming opponent.

I never detected one self-promoting bone in his body. If anything, I took him as a bit shy.

Dave Clawson always spoke of him in glowing terms, even during those first two seasons when Ruggiero was catching all manner of flak for coordinating an offense that had to rank among the worst in all of college football. Give him time and talent, Clawson would maintain, and everyone would see full well why he was hired as Wake’s offensive coordinator in the first place.

Well we all saw that last season, the fourth for Clawson and Ruggiero, when the Deacons set more records than most would know were even recorded. In perhaps no other realm than college football can one graduate so quickly from bonehead to brainiac.

And let the record show that Ruggiero’s acumen and expertise were on full display again last night in Wake’s season-opening 23-17 overtime victory at Tulane. And here I’m not talking so much about the offensive production, the three touchdowns and a field goal or even the 548 total yards.

The Wake world is today raving, and rightfully so, about the dazzling debut of freshman Sam Hartman at quarterback — he of the 31 completions on 51 attempts for 378 yards – the 10th most yards ever accounted for by a Deacons’ quarterback. Clawson and Ruggiero were expressing full confidence in Hartman when he out-battled Jamie Newman for the opening day start, and now we all can see why.

But let’s not forget that a year ago, Sam Hartman was starting his senior season of high school.

It was Warren Ruggiero, along with Clawson, who identified Hartman early enough on the recruitment trail to secure a commitment after Hartman’s sophomore season at Davidson Day. And it was Ruggiero who forged enough of a bond with Hartman as to shoo away all the johnny-come-latelies who began to flock around during Hartman’s round-about journey from Davidson Day to Oceanside Collegiate in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

And when Hartman enrolled last January, it was Ruggiero who had the charge of coaching him up to where, just eight months later, he could walk out on a Division-I field and do what he did at Tulane. Wake needed a quarterback with the graduation of John Wolford, and Ruggiero and Hartman needed only one game to prove that the Deacons have one.

Hartman is a true talent, and may even turn to be a preeminent one. But to do what he did last night, he needed all the help he could get.

And that’s were the acumen and expertise of Warren Ruggiero came in handy.

From Clawson’s perspective, it might have been the perfect result. The Deacons got the victory, and Clawson and Ruggiero got a teaching moment that Hartman won’t soon forget.

Yeah, Hartman’s knee might well have been down when he shoveled that harebrained pass into the belly of a Tulane defender for a play that could have easily cost Wake the game.

But that’s not the kind of play, as Clawson pointedly pointed out afterward, that a quarterback at Wake (or anywhere for that matter) can be excused for making.

“It was unnecessary and not a smart play,’’ Clawson said. “It was really a foolish, foolish play. We have to coach that out of him. You can’t do that.’’

Fortunately for Clawson he has, in Warren Ruggiero, just the coach to help him do it.

Few Known Knowns in Openers

College football would be a better game, and its coaches would certainly sleep much better in August, if the sport featured Friendlies.

Friendlies, as anybody who knows soccer can attest, are those games between opponents with nothing riding other than the opportunity to find out more about your team and what you need to work on before the rubber really meets the road and the won-loss record is chiseled in granite.

Baseball has Friendlies. They’re called spring training. Pro football has Friendlies. They’re called preseason (don’t call them exhibition) games. Even college basketball has a form of a Friendly in those preseason scrimmages against another program where details are released to the media and general public only at the expense of some poor underling’s career.

But college football is different. The teams practice all August, show up for the opener, the National Anthem is sung, the whistle blows and boom, just like that, they begin going at each other with everything on the line.

Some teams carve themselves a certain margin of error by scheduling an opening opponent that really has little to no business giving them a real game. But there’s still more uncertainty there than most coaches would like, as Wake found out in 2012 with a 20-17 home victory over Liberty and two seasons ago with a 7-3 home win against Tulane.

Wake opens another football season tomorrow night at Tulane and I have no idea what to expect. And that puts me in good company with Dave Clawson and Willie Fritz, the head coaches of the respective schools.

We all can see the strides Clawson has made during his four seasons at Wake, and it’s hard to miss how Tulane has improved over Fritz’ first two seasons.

“This is a much deeper and much more talented football team than the one we played two years ago here at BB&T,’’ Clawson told the media on Tuesday. “That was a game we were fortunate to win. We really shouldn’t have won the game.’’

But as to just how much progress has been made won’t be known until the teams line up and start playing. There are just too many unknowns.

As much as I would love to relegate Donald Rumsfeld to the dustbin of history, I can’t help, in these instances, but recall what he said about the known knowns and the unknown knowns. And in that there are so many similarities between warfare and football, I’ll refer to the man who did so much to sabre-rattle us into a war vanity war the rest of the world was trying to warn us against.

The known knowns for Wake are the speed and talent at the skill positions, the size, strength and athleticism of the defensive front and, most of all, the experience, confidence and precision of one of the best offensive lines in the ACC. Clawson spent four years building that line block by block and the results should ensure that the Deacons, in Clawson’s fifth season, will be at least competitive.

But then come the known unknowns, the new faces at linebacker and in the secondary, a new kicker, and most glaring of all, a freshman quarterback in Sam Hartman who at this time last season was playing high school football.

I’ve expressed concern about linebacker, a strength in Clawson’s early days when All-ACC linebackers Brandon Chubb and Marquel Lee were roaming sideline to sideline. But Les Conor of Demon Deacon Digest and Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal have attended preseason practices and games and seem to be impressed with starters Justin Strnad and D.J. Taylor. And obviously Ryan Smenda, Jr., has made a splash or he wouldn’t be listed as second-team as a first-year freshman.

So maybe the Deacons will be OK, or even a notch above OK, there.

But even if I knew what to expect from Wake, I still wouldn’t have any idea what’s going to happen tomorrow night. That would require me knowing far more about Tulane than anyone other than the Green Wave coaches and maybe their immediate families are going to know – or think they know.

In did check out the Seven Key Storylines for Tulane Football 2018 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune published earlier this week, and found out that the Green Wave quarterback, Jonathan Banks, is a talented athlete whose career has been hindered by injuries, and that Fritz and his staff are looking for vast improvement from a defense that gave up 436 yards a game last season.

But the most inescapable of all the known knowns is that this is a really critical game in Dave Clawson’s fifth season as Wake’s head coach. The Deacons do return home to play Towson on Sept. 8, but then the schedule gets rocky really fast. The biggest game of the season could well turn out to be the visit by improved Boston College on Sept. 13, followed the next week by a visit from Notre Dame.

Wake should get a respite at home against Rice on Sept. 20, only to turn its sights to a home game against Clemson on Oct. 6 and a trip to Florida State on Oct. 20.

Only in his nightmares does Clawson allow himself to contemplate a losses against Tulane, BC, Notre Dame, Clemson and FSU leaving his Deacons at 2-5 with trips to Louisville, N.C. State and Duke remaining.

Maybe Wake will wax Tulane tomorrow night, drill BC in BB&T and head into the Notre Dame game feeling good at 3-0. It could happen. But if you’re looking for a prediction, you won’t find it here.

Now if the sport of college football featured Friendlies, I would probably have a better idea of what to expect. But if the sport had Friendlies, there’s no way you could call it football.

The terms are just too incongruous.

George Greer Makes the Majors

As parents, we endeavor to do the best we can for our kids.

When it comes to our son Nate, I can comfortably say that in at least one regard, I succeeded.

Additional proof, as if I needed any, came when I was watching the rampaging St. Louis Cardinals recently. There in the dugout, dispensing the kind of expertise it takes a lifetime to accumulate, was the man who taught Nate Collins how to hit a baseball.

He might have taught your son or daughter as well. He’s one of us, a man who has been living in and around Winston-Salem since he was hired to coach baseball at Wake in 1988.

His name is George Greer, and I’m proud to call him a friend. We’ve kept up since his run at Wake ended (after 608 victories and three ACC titles) in 2004. I’d bump into George around town from time to time and he and his wife Becky – a woman accomplished enough in her own field to serve as superintendent of the Radford City Public Schools in Virginia – have even dropped by our Open Mics down at Muddy Creek Cafe a handful of times.

Once they were accompanied by Allan Dykstra, the former All-ACC slugger who was living with George and Becky upon his return to the area to complete his degree at Wake.

And as much as I like George Greer, I wish his Cardinals would cool off a bit. They keep crowding my Cubs in the NL Central.

The Cardinals began rampaging in mid-July after they replaced manager Mike Matheny with Mike Shildt, a lifer in the organization who beyond being a regular guy everyone seems to like also had the good sense to promote Greer to the majors to serve, along with Mark Budaska, as co-batting coach.

So at the tender age of 72, only 50 years after he first joined the organization as a 17th-round draft choice out of Connecticut, George Greer is in the majors. What a wonderful story, told so well here by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nate was good enough to help a Little League team win games, but he never made his mark in baseball. Just might have had something to do with genes.

He instead took up the drums and is living his life in music. No regrets there.

And there are certainly no regrets on my part concerning who I took him to for instruction on how to hit a baseball.

In my time at the Winston-Salem Journal, I covered thousands of minor league and college games and got to know countless coaches and managers in the game.

I feel comfortable in saying that no one I ever met knows more about the fine art of hitting a baseball than George Greer. Apparently that high opinion is shared by folks in the highest realm of the game. I’m so happy for my friend, and can’t wait for him to come back around this fall so we can talk about this latest chapter in his fascinating life.

Here’s hoping I won’t have to wait until after the World Series. As a Cubs’ fans, I just can’t make myself pull for the Cardinals.

Sorry George.