Nobody joins any college football program to lose, which is why most Senior Days at Wake over the years have been at best a bittersweet tribute to toil, dedication and effort and at worst another sad reminder of unrealized hopes and dreams.
Over the first 64 seasons of ACC football, 16 senior classes at Wake went out as winners – on teams with winning records. The other 48, try as they might, found their best was not good enough.
Their only consolation was that perhaps they helped lay the foundation for better days ahead.
Beating those ancient rivals from N.C. State, as the Deacons did 30-24 last night at BB&T Field, is always cause for mass jubilation. To beat the Wolfpack in a season that so much was expected from Dave Doeren’s fifth edition was especially gratifying.
But as happy as I am for Dave Clawson and his staff, I’m happiest for Wake’s seniors. They’ve guaranteed themselves a second-straight winning season, and they’ve done so with so much more to play for.
They’ve already passed the test. Now they’re after all the extra credit they can pile up before riding off into the NFL, their first job, the sunset, or whatever the destination might be.
As the Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal three seasons ago, I got to know John Wolford and Cam Serigne and Wendell Dunn better than I knew most freshmen. I had to get to know them because they were playing key roles.
And along the way I got to know others in their class, guys like Duke Ejiofor and Grant Dawson and Jaboree Williams and Devin Pike and I could see what they had to do to get the program where it is today.
It’s a small group, the seniors and redshirt seniors who are winding up their college careers, but its impact on the Deacons program has been immeasurable.
Wolford, in so many ways, epitomizes what has happened with Wake football since Clawson took over before the 2014 season. The only people to ever believe in John Wolford were the coaches he played for, the players he played with, his family and closest friends, and Wolford himself.
Every season Wolford was forced to win his position, and every season he proved to be a player Clawson simply couldn’t keep off the field.
To see Wolford finally get to play behind a strong, veteran offensive line and alongside skill players who could do what needed to be done has been so much fun this season. To see him get all that national attention as the catalyst of the most dynamic offense in Wake football history has been such a joy.
And to know that he and his fellow seniors are not done is the most exciting part of the whole story.
Since the ACC began in 1953, only five Wake teams have won as many as eight games.
By beating Duke next week at home in the regular-season finale, the Deacons would be 8-4.
In all these seasons of the ACC, only two Wake teams have won as many as nine games. By beating Duke and then winning the bowl game they’ve earned the right to play in, the Deacons would be 9-4.
Nobody joins any college football program to lose, and John Wolford and those with him on this journey through a college career were too good, too determined and too well-coached to go out as losers.
Asked to assess Wolford’s performance last night, Clawson was succinct.
“He’s a winning quarterback,’’ Clawson explained.