The stories I covered with the Winston-Salem Journal didn’t end upon my retirement in August. They continued to unfold, often to my surprise but more times than not in ways that I kind of figured they would.
There may have been no story on Wake football that I wrote about more often, or in greater depth, than Coach Dave Clawson’s concerted efforts to build an offensive line capable of blocking the defenses the Deacons played.
Clawson’s concerted efforts followed those made by Jim Grobe and his staff during Grobe’s last seasons as head coach. The failure to field a winning team over Grobe’s final five seasons could be attributed, in large part, to trying to win the ACC with, at best, a Sun Belt offensive line.
It was with great interest, then, that I read Conor O’Neill’s piece in this Sunday’s Journal about the transformation of the Deacons’ offensive line into one of the most formidable units in recent school history.
For the story behind Conor’s story, you might want to check out what I wrote way back at the beginning, when Clawson threw some young kids to the wolves knowing how badly they would get mauled before acquiring the kind of strength, experience and toughness required to survive, let alone thrive in the trench warfare of the ACC.
My public school education is not sufficient to count the times Clawson reminded everyone – probably most of all himself – how the process could not be rushed, how it took time in the weight room, time in the film room, time on the field to forge five or six players into one capable unit.
Along the way, everyone had to take their lumps.
Clawson took his lumps, from the fans, from relentless scribes like me, and even from former Wake coaches such as Al Groh who opined as a television analyst that the Deacons’ line needed to ditch the two-point stance and drop a fist on the ground for better drive.
Nick Tabacca, the offensive line coach, took his lumps every time the Deacons were stuffed on a third-and-one, not to mention the one hundred or so times quarterback John Wolford picked himself off the ground after being sacked.
But nobody took more lumps than Justin Herron, Phil Haynes, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Osterhage, Jake Benzinger and Nate Gilliam, the linemen who were physically dominated game after game, season after season, before becoming strong and together enough to fight back.
The story that will be best remembered after the Deacons end their season against Texas A&M in the Dec. 29 Belk Bowl will be how Wolford survived the pounding to lead Wake to the most points ever scored in school history. But knowing Wolford as I got to know him in his first three seasons, he would be the first to say he could not have done it without the remarkable growth and maturation of his big buddies up front, Wake’s Beef Boys.
No, stories don’t end at retirement. In this instance, I covered the seeding, watering and weeding of the Deacons’ offensive line, and Conor got to write the harvest.