Black and Gold Path of Least Resistance

For all the comings and goings during Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons at Wake – and lately those going have been doing so at an alarming rate – one constant remains.

The Deacons can’t defend, or at least they can’t do so well enough collectively to be more than fodder to those good teams lucky enough to play them. Such was the case in Year One of Manning’s run at Wake, and such is the case at the start of Year Five.

Manning’s counterpart, Phil Martelli of St. Joe’s, had plenty of reason to feel good going into the Myrtle Beach Invitational. His daughter gave birth to Martelli’s grandson and his Hawks were afforded the Path of Least Resistance into the semifinals of the tournament.

A Path of Least Resistance is what Wake has been since the day Manning arrived, and that’s what the Deacons were again today in a demoralizing 89-69 thumping. Whether it’s advancing in a tournament or climbing one more step toward the top of the ACC standings, few teams provide less resistance than a Wake team coached by Danny Manning.

This one was more demoralizing than so many that came before because of all the optimism around the program going into the season.

You know #newbeginnings, and all that.

The Deacons did, after all, add highly-regarded freshmen Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright, Jr., and Manning and his staff were coming off a full season of coaching up promising sophomores Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr.

Yet over the first 10 minutes of the second half – while the Hawks were scoring on 14 of 20 possessions to blow a tie game wide open – the brand of basketball being played by the Deacons looked for all the world like the same old same old we’ve all been watching for the past four years.

We saw it all once again, hot shooters shooting wide-open shots, drivers driving straight-line to the basket for layups, cutters cutting off ball screens to find nobody between them and the basket.

Over my seasons since retirement, I watch Wake basketball with a pad in my hand, and tally how many possessions opponents get and how many times the Deacons stop them from scoring. Even with counting the three St. Joe’s possessions after both coaches emptied their bench – the Hawks scored on 38 of their 68 possessions.

They scored on 19 of 35 in the first half, and 19 of 33 in the second. But they made their greatest hay midway through the second half by scoring on seven straight possessions.

Not until the damage had already been done, and St. Joe’s was looking forward to its next game in the tournament, did Wake stop the Hawks twice in a row in the second half. And not until the coaches emptied the bench did the Deacons stop St. Joe’s more than twice in a row.

The season-opening 90-78 victory over North Carolina A&T was fun, in that we got to see Hoard and Mucius finally put their considerable athletic talents on display in a college setting, and had reason to wonder just how good Wright, Brown and Sarr might be. But alarm bells had to go off when the Aggies shot 46 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, while being forced into just eight turnovers.

Then comes today, when the Hawks shoot 52 percent from the floor and 53 percent from beyond the arc and score 89 points while committing just eight turnovers.

Hoard and Mucius are good offensive players, and they’re going to fill a high-light reel for the season. Brown looked good in the first half, before pulling his all-to-familiar disappearing act in the second.

But can the Deacons beat anybody good when their starting center, Sarr, plays 22 minutes and gets only one shot – a 3-pointer he drilled from the top of the key?

Throughout my career, I resisted making snap judgments, and I continue to do so today. It’s a long season, and all that. Nothing is static in life. Everything is dynamic, in a state of flux.

Maybe today was a case of early-season jitters, and maybe the Deacons will come out and romp through the next two games of the tournament. I’d like to think that’s the case, and might even succeed if what we saw today didn’t look so much like what we’ve all seen so many times before.

Commission the Statue

We had us another hot time in the old town of Bethania last night at our Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe.

As always, it was all kinds of people playing all kinds of music all kinds of ways having all kinds of fun doing so.

But as good a night as I had, I know one guy who had a better night. A much better night.

In fact it’s hard for me to remember a Wake football coach having a better night – at least not in the regular season — than Dave Clawson enjoyed last night about 100 miles east of Bethania at N.C. State.

Everybody knew going in that Wake never wins at N.C. State. Everybody knew Wake was too depleted on defense to hold the 14th-ranked Wolfpack to fewer than 50 points. Everybody knew there was no way Wake was going to walk into Carter-Finley Stadium with a quarterback who had never started a game and get out with anything less than a old-fashion tail-whipping.

Betting was never my thing during my years as a sportswriter, partly because I’m too tight to part with my money but mostly because I didn’t think that professionally it would be a good idea.

But if I had bet on last night’s game I would have lost bigly. I mean really hugely. Because, like pretty much everybody who wasn’t on the team bus from Winston-Salem to Raleigh, I thought there was no way Wake would win.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. Dave Clawson proved everybody wrong, and as a result the Deacons got back on that team bus and celebrated their most improbable 27-23 victory all the way back down I-40 to campus.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong in more ways than one. I thought it was wrong to fire Jay Sawvel, the defensive coordinator, three games into the season. My position, I thought, was confirmed when the Deacons continued to get shredded long after Sawvel was gone.

But to take a defense that had given up 177 points in its previous four games and coach it up to the point it could hold N.C. State to two touchdowns and three field goals was one of the inspired coaching performances I can remember. Making it all the more astounding was the fact Clawson had only five days to do it.

(And by the way, who was it that broke up Ryan Finley’s fourth-down pass late, a play that gave the Deacons a chance to win? It was none other than the much-maligned – by me and pretty much everybody – Ja’Sir Taylor. What a night.)

Dave Clawson proved me wrong for positing that he and his staff had squandered the four years that John Wolford started at quarterback without recruiting a quarterback good enough to either beat out or back up freshman Sam Hartman. I’ve said before that Jamie Newman, at 6-4, 230, certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback, but last night he also played like one when it mattered most, directing the two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that pulled out the victory.

Now I could grumble about how seldom any of us are told about the injuries on the Wake team, and how none of us knew the litany of injuries that had kept Jamie Newman sidelined. I could even suggest – admittedly without a shred of evidence to back it up – that maybe Clawson was starting the wrong guy all along, or, short of that, too slow to insert Newman for Hartman when the going got rough.

I could also point out that Clawson came around to the realization that I, like many others, had arrived at weeks earlier – that to protect his worn and tattered defense he needed to run fewer plays on offense. He freely acknowledged that the strategy last night was to downshift on offense.

But to cast any aspersions on the kind of victory Wake enjoyed last night at N.C. State would be small of me, and I don’t want to be like that. Dave Clawson pulled off one of the most amazing victories in the history of Wake football, and he deserves every bit of credit we can shower him with.

I admittedly get a big kick out of reading message-board chatter both for smiles and to gauge the mood and shifts of a fan base. As one would certainly expect, the Wolfpack fans howling on late into the night were all about firing everybody from Dave Doeren right down the ball boys.

But even when Wake was losing to BC, Florida State and Syracuse and giving up 63 points to Clemson, I was writing that Dave Clawson is a good football coach, and that Wake was lucky to have him. I was writing that he was a good football coach having a bad season.

Well Dave Clawson’s season got a whole lot better last night in Raleigh. The Deacons found another option at quarterback, beat a heated rival at a place where Wake never wins, all the while improving to 5-5 with games against Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play.

A couple of weeks ago, after the victory over Louisville, I wrote that if Dave Clawson can get a team to a bowl in this, of all, seasons, Wake should erect a statue to him and that he would be worth more to the school than said school could ever hope to pay him.

I knew all along he was a good football coach. But I never thought he was as good as what we saw last night.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. And it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

Rookie Quarterback Blues, Verse Deux

(Editors note: No sooner had I posted this blog than I caught Les Johns’ scoop in Demon Deacon Digest that freshman quarterback Sam Hartman has been lost for the rest of the season because of injury. Off to play music today. Will address development in days to come).

Much was made in yesterday’s telecast of Syracuse’s 41-24 victory over the Deacons concerning the similarities between the quarterback who just graduated out of the Wake program and the one who just arrived.

Sideline reporter Rebecca Kaple reported that Coach Dino Babers of the Orange saw them as basically the same guy. The quote was something to the effect of “they took the quarterback they had last season as a senior and started him over as a freshman.’’

The comparisons between John Wolford and Sam Hartman are inescapable. Both are relatively short white quarterbacks dangerous either running or throwing the football. And both are sharp enough to absorb an offense early and well enough to begin their careers on the field.

Neither was a highly-coveted blue chip recruit and yet both possess the kind of gravitas it takes to command the respect of older, more grizzled teammates.

Yet as the game unfolded, what became clearer and clearer to these old rheumy eyes was the difference between the two.

Physically, they’re different. Hartman seems a tad taller and is definitely more rangy. Wolford looked stocky to me when he arrived, even before he spent the next four years in the weight room adding muscle.

If pressed as to which is the most physically talented, I’d probably say Hartman. He appears to have more arm strength, perhaps a few more miles-per-hour on his passes, if nothing else.

But to even be compared to John Wolford, a quarterback would have to be one of the toughest hombres to ever suit up for Wake football. Wolford absorbed an unholy pounding over the first half of his career, and not only survived, but thrived well enough to lead the Deacons to back-to-back winning seasons capped by bowl victories over Temple and Texas A&M and leave Wake ranked third in all-time passing yards, second in touchdown passes and second to only the legendary Riley Skinner for total yards.

None of this is to say that Hartman is soft. He would have to have the requisite sand to even take a snap from center in his first season, much less get up from all the times he has been slammed unceremoniously to the turf.

As someone who couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be pancaked by a bull-rushing 300-pound defensive tackle, I’m not about to call anybody who has lived to tell about it yellow. Nobody who suits up for college football is yellow, for the weak and timid have been long beforehand culled from the sport.

But it’s what I’ve seen from Hartman in his first nine games that separates him most from the man he succeeded. I’ve seen him flinch.

I’ve seen him come out strong, only to get rattled and a bit gunshy once he’s been hit a time or two. I saw it yesterday when he overthrew a wide open Matt Colburn down the right sidelines, and a play or two later overthrew a wide open Scotty Washington down the left sideline.

I saw it when he dropped back and whiffed his pass for a fumble that Syracuse converted into a game-changing touchdown.

Maybe, thinking back to 2014, John Wolford flinched a time or two as a freshman quarterback breaking into the ACC. Maybe my memory is colored rose by by immense respect for John Wolford and all he became as a junior and senior.

But that said, I can’t for the life of me remember John Wolford flinching. I do remember him getting sacked something like 48 times as a freshman and around 40 as a sophomore. I would prefer to be a bit more specific, but the only sack stats I could find from past seasons were team stats and not broken down by player.

Hartman has also been roughed up, as all ACC quarterbacks are. But the 24 sacks Wake has taken through nine games is a far cry from what Wolford endured his freshman season.

It has become pretty apparent by now that Hartman, at this stage in his career, is not ready for all he has been asked to do. Coach Dave Clawson said as much after yesterday’s fifth loss of the season – which left the Deacons needing to win two of their final three to play in a bowl.

“We’ve got to get Sam to not turn the ball over,’’ Clawson said. “We’re putting way too much pressure on Sam right now.

“If he goes, we go. We’re in it together, but that’s the nature of the quarterback position.’’

So Clawson has been here twice already in his five seasons at Wake, throwing a freshman quarterback to the wolves.

The first time was not on him. The offensive cupboard was so bare when he and his staff arrived that freshman John Wolford was really the only option.

But he does bear responsibility for this season’s predicament. How valuable would it be if there was a back-up quarterback on the roster ready to come in and at least spell a rattled Hartman for a series or two, and perhaps even give the opposing defensive coordinator something else to worry about?

As I’ve written before, ostensibly that alternative should be Kendall Hinton, the guy Clawson described in such glowing terms these past three seasons. The way Clawson raved about Hinton’s electrifying elusiveness had me anticipating the ACC’s second coming of Lamar Jackson.

But as fate would have it, Hinton was suspended for the first three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules,’’ and his redshirt junior season has unraveled. If you’re like me (a disturbing thought indeed) you’d love to know the real story of Hinton’s season, the reason for the suspension and why he has played only a handful of plays through the first nine games.

But Clawson has followed the same script as most of his college coaching brethren and pulled the shutters down around the Wake program. Practices are closed, injuries are cloaked and the real reason a player is not playing is way too hard to pry out.

Don’t worry about it folks. It’s all on a need-to-know basis.

When finally asked about Hinton after Saturday’s loss, Clawson reached deep into the locked box for the disabled list. Again, Clawson prefers to talk about injuries after a game, and rarely before.

“Kendall is hurt again,’’ Clawson said. “We gave Kendall No. 5 today because we were going to get him involved with special teams. There were going to be chances when he and Cam Glenn (who also wears No. 2) would be on the field together. He was cleared to practice Tuesday, then he got hurt with a new injury. There was an ankle injury last week, and a hip flexor now.

“It’s just sometimes when it rains, it pours.’’

The downpour leaves Wake with three scholarship quarterbacks. Redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman looks the part, but has played only sparingly and hasn’t been all impressive while doing so. And Tayvon Bowers is a redshirt freshman who I know absolutely nothing about, other than he was beaten out by a quarterback who arrived at Wake six months after he did.

The quarterback who beat Bowers out, Sam Hartman, has shown promise. My guess is that, in time, he will end up being the answer for the Deacons’ quarterback needs. He may even turn out to be one of Wake’s all-time greats.

But he does need to toughen up, and learn how to deal with the physical demands of the position. Happy feet from your quarterbacks lead to sad results on the scoreboard.

In time – and he has plenty of it remaining – Hartman may turn out to be as resolute, as stouthearted, as indomitable as the quarterback he replaced.

I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll keep looking, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Wake Turns to Nestor Once Again

A disclosure is in order at the beginning of this take on Wake basketball concerning the hire of Ernie Nestor.

Ernie is a good friend. We got to know each other pretty well during his first stint as Wake assistant coach for Carl Tacy from 1979 through 1985, and became even better friends when he returned to assist Dave Odom during the glory years from 1993 through 2001.

We’ve kept up over his vagabond seasons as a basketball coach, and I’ve always thought the world of Ernie. Of course that puts me in the vast majority of those who have crossed paths with him, and the prevailing reason his return to Wake is being celebrated by so many around the campus and the basketball program.

Ernie is warm, sharp, caring and decent, as well as one of the most interesting and engaging people I had the pleasure of getting to know during my four-plus decades as a working sportswriter. He has sat on benches at James Madison, Wake, California, George Mason, South Carolina, Elon, Penn State, Missouri and Navy, so he knows just a bit about how the game should be played – and coached.

And to see that he is being brought in to help right the ship, in my mind, is a most encouraging development for a program that has been capsized far too many years. Or at least it has the potential to be.

The release through the media relations department states that Ernie has been hired as Special Assistant to the Head Coach. Otherwise his job description is pretty much left up to the imagination.

But in calling around and checking I have confirmed that he won’t be one of the three full-fledged assistants the NCAA allows every Division I program, he won’t be giving individual instruction and he won’t be hitting the recruiting trail.

What that leaves is that Ernie has been brought in to coach the coaches, or at least do as much coaching as said coaches allow.

And though the delicate politics of the situation would preclude anyone from saying this – not head coach Danny Manning, not Athletics Director Ron Wellman, and certainly not Ernie Nestor himself – it has become apparent to many over these past four years that when it comes to directing an ACC basketball program, Danny Manning needs all the help he can get.

When I first saw Wake’s new slogan for the basketball program was #newbeginnings, I began to wonder if early signs of Alzheimer’s were setting in.

At my advanced age of 66, I reckon we have have to become concerned with such.

I was still working the beat for the Winston-Salem Journal when Manning was hired as head coach, and I could have sworn that was back in April of 2014. If this is a new beginning, then what happened to the past four seasons under the same coach coaching today?

Oh now I remember. The Deacons won 54 games, lost 72 and finished 12th, 13th, 10th and 14th in the ACC regular-season standings. To call a fifth straight season under the same coach a new beginning strains credulity, but hey, if whoever came up with the slogan can get away with it, then more power to them.

When Wellman replaced Jeff Bzdelik with Manning, I thought at the time that the move might work. Manning, after all, is a legendary name in basketball from his “Danny and the Miracles’’ NCAA Player of the Year days at Kansas through his 15 seasons in the NBA. His name and acclaim, I figured, should help him at least get in the living rooms of the caliber of recruits needed to win the ACC.

He was smart enough to start his coaching career on the ground floor back at his alma mater, and he showed potential in his new chosen field when his second team at Tulsa went on enough of a tear to win the Conference-USA Tournament and play in the NCAA Tournament.

But there was still that question about experience, and whether his elevation to a head job in the ACC in only his third season as a head coach would require more on-the-job training than any fan base – or administration for that matter – would or should be willing to abide.

Hey, history informs us that on-the-job training can work out. Dean Smith’s first head job was at North Carolina. Tony Bennett was head coach for only three seasons at Washington State when Virginia came calling.

The problem at Wake was that Manning, from all we could tell given the closed nature of the program, wasn’t showing growth as a coach. The mistakes he was making in 2014 were still being made in 2018.

He’s a proud man, and with pride comes stubbornness. Meanwhile one player after another was bolting the program for pastures green or otherwise, requiring Wake to depend on inexperienced talent season after disappointing season.

Those searching for eternal youth haven’t been checking out the Wake basketball roster.

So now somebody – and I would have to guess this is Wellman’s hand on the controls – has convinced Manning of the need to bring in an old head to help with X’s and O’s, game management, player development and the overall ins and outs of running a major-college basketball program.

A program that has gotten so much wrong over these past 10 years finally got something right. The Deacons needed a consultant to help the coaches, and they went out and got the perfect guy.

He’s perfect because he’s Wake to the marrow, and he’s perfect because his ego is, and always has been, completely in check.

If this works out, and Wake is a better team with Ernie Nestor lending his shoulder to the wheel, then the last person you will hear that from will be Ernie Nestor.

The season starts with Friday’s exhibition against Belmont Abbey, and I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt this good about the direction of the Wake basketball program.

Karma 56, Louisville 35

On the karmic scale of 0-100, Wake Forest’s 56-35 victory at Louisville yesterday registered somewhere north of 250.

Even someone who trained themselves for four decades to not exult or despair over the outcome of an athletic event could take deep satisfaction in the way this one came down.

There was Bobby Petrino, as reptilian of a coach as I ever had the displeasure of crossing paths with, screaming at a team that had clearly given up on him, in front of a cavernous stadium with row after row of empty seats.

There was Lonnie Galloway, the former Wake assistant who conspired to cheat his old employer, standing on the Louisville sidelines wondering where he’ll be coaching next season.

There was Matt Colburn, the running back who had his scholarship offer from Louisville yanked two days before signing day, running over, around and through the dispirited Cardinal defense to three touchdowns and a career-best 243 rushing yards.

There was a Wake defense that had been summarily dismantled by Boston College, Notre Dame and Clemson reassembling at least well enough to keep the Deacons’ bowl hopes alive.

And making the spectacle all the more enjoyable was the opportunity to take it all in with an old friend. I call him an old friend, even though he’s only about half my age.

His name is Evan Lepler, and he was the play-by-play guy in yesterday’s Fox Sport Southeast telecast.

I was lucky enough to get to know Evan during his pass through Wake Forest a dozen or so years ago, and even had the pleasure of meeting his folks, Steve and Ramie of Sharon, Mass., on that historic day the Deacons played Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

Good folks.

I’ve closely followed Lepler’s rise through the ranks from the play-by-play announcer for the Salem Redbirds of the Carolina League, through his involvement with Ultimate Frisbee on to an ever-increasing number of assignments to major college football and basketball. A favorite saying of mine is that good things happen to good people, and the good things that have been happening to Evan Lepler these past couple of years include the marriage to his sweetheart Caleigh, and the arrival of the apple of their eyes, little miss Olivia Bennett.

Listen. Evan is a friend so I’m going to tell you he’s a good play-by-play regardless of his abilities. But thankfully I don’t have to deceive anyone by saying Evan is not only good, he’s getting better game by game.

That’s the way with smart people. They get better the more they do whatever they’ve chosen to do, and I fully expect Evan Lepler to be a heavyweight in his chosen field long before Olivia Bennett begins to consider colleges she might attend.

He’s clearly a pro, which is why anyone who didn’t know his background could have ever guessed he graduated from Wake in 2007. It would have been disappointing to hear him spend the telecast waving black and gold pom poms.

But by this point in his career, I have to believe he doesn’t live and die with the outcome of a sporting event. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and Saturday’s game might have been as close to that exception as Evan is going to experience this season.

Again, smart people get better the more they do what they’ve chosen to do. In that vein, Dave Clawson has spent 19 years getting better and better as a football coach.

As I’ve written before, coaches, like players, like everybody, have their good seasons and their bad seasons. Coming out of last week’s loss at Florida State, it was pretty apparent that Dave Clawson was having a bad season.

The argument could be made that he was a victim of his own success, that he had raised the expectations to a point that it was becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the masses. And there’s no disputing that the breaks have gone against the Deacons this season, what with the early suspension to Kendall Hinton and the epidemic of injuries that have ravaged critical positions on defense.

But here we are eight games into the season, and the Deacons have a fighting chance to win six games and play in a bowl for the third straight campaign. They gave themselves that chance by beating Louisville and improving to 4-4 with Syracuse (home), N.C. State (away), Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play.

Dave Clawson proved to me in his first four seasons at Wake that he’s a good coach, one of the best the school has ever been lucky enough to hire. And I remained convinced Dave Clawson is a good football coach – albeit one having a bad season — even when his team was giving up 41 points to BC, 56 to Notre Dame and 63 to Clemson.

But if he can somehow get this team to a bowl in this, of all seasons, then it would be one of the best performances from any coach I’ve every crossed paths with. If Wake plays in a bowl in 2018, the school should erect a statue to Dave Clawson.

If Wake plays in a bowl in 2018, he’ll be worth more to the school than said school could ever hope to pay him.

Speaking of schools paying football coaches, it’s going to be fun to see if Louisville digs deep enough to come up with the $14 million buyout it will take to get rid of Bobby Petrino.

On a day that Petrino was looking about as a bad as coach can look, two folks from Wake – one in the television booth and one directing the victory on the sidelines — were looking mighty, mighty good.

Never bet against karma.

All-Points-Bulletin Out for Kendall Hinton

I just think that Kendall Hinton is too good an athlete. He makes too many plays. If we don’t utilize Kendall Hinton, that’s a huge, huge mistake.’’Dave Clawson, Aug. 2016.

For three seasons, Coach Dave Clawson couldn’t say enough nice things about Kendall Hinton – no matter how hard he tried.

And he tried really hard. Trust me on this one. I was still riding the Wake beat for the Winston-Salem Journal at the time and was hearing, over and over again how dynamic, how explosive, how elusive one Kendall Hinton of Southern Durham High School really, really was.

Clawson was so high on Hinton that he named him the starter going into my last preseason camp of 2017, over another guy named John Wolford who, in the final game of the previous season, had directed a 34-26 bowl victory over Temple.

Fast forward through a season and a half, through Wolford’s ascent into the pantheon of all-time Wake quarterbacks and Hinton’s three-game suspension to start the 2018 campaign, all the way to Saturday’s trip to Tallahassee to play struggling Florida State. Or at least the Seminoles were struggling until they had the chance to play what’s left of Clawson’s fifth team at Wake.

I listened transfixed to Clawson’s post-game after FSU’s methodical 38-17 beat-down, and heard how the Deacons were down to one scholarship linebacker, Justin Strnad, and how hard converted safety Luke Masterson played, and how the offense continues to struggle in the hands of freshman quarterback Sam Hartman, who completed 22 of 46 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing an interception and getting sacked four times.

“He was very up-and-down,’’ Clawson said. “He really struggled. He made some really poor decisions in the pocket. We get a first-and-10 and get a re-set, and he takes a 12-yard sack. And we go for it on fourth down and he takes another sack and we give them the ball at midfield. And then third-down we go for it – obviously we go for it on third down – but nobody’s open and he just goes backwards

“So he made some really poor decisions in the pocket and they cost us a lot of yardage. This isn’t high-school football. You play defensive ends that are faster than you. He’s a true freshman quarterback and he competes and he plays hard, but he’s learning some lessons the hard way.’’

It was never the plan, Clawson went on to say, to play a freshman quarterback, which at least implies that the dynamic, explosive elusive Kendall Hinton screwed up Plan A by getting himself suspended for three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules.’’

Hinton was so elusive on Saturday that he wasn’t even in Tallahassee. Clawson prefers to talk about injuries after a game instead of before. Turns out Hinton turned his ankle during the off-week, an injury that went undisclosed – as undisclosed as Hinton’s reasons for missing the first three games – until Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal tweeted the news out to us civilians sometime during the second half.

So what, we’re left to wonder, is the story with the dynamic, explosive, elusive Kendall Hinton? We know he was moved to slot receiver following the suspension, but then heard he had been moved back to his time-tested role of back-up quarterback. There were even fleeting Kendall Hinton sightings against Notre Dame, Rice and Clemson, though he hardly looked like the answer while throwing incomplete on all five of his attempts against the Tigers.

I, for one, wondered if Clawson would take advantage of the off-week to work the dynamic, explosive, elusive Kendall Hinton back into the mix. But little did I know, and apparently little did anyone outside the program know, that the dynamic, explosive elusive Kendall Hinton had been added to the Deacons’ ever-burgeoning injury list.

Look, I have no idea if Clawson should turn to Hinton in an effort to save the season. I don’t go to practices anymore. But, one problem with trying to follow this team, is that nobody goes to practices anymore. Any information we get is spoon-fed to us civilians by Clawson and the players, when it’s disseminated at all.

It has become apparent that Clawson felt compelled to throw Hartman into the fray before Hartman was ready. Clawson as much as admitted that Saturday. Maybe the offensive game plan is so baked-in by now that attempting a dramatic overhaul at this stage would be folly. Maybe now that he’s in for a dime with Hartman, Clawson is in for the whole dollar.

But we also saw Clawson’s other option, Jamie Newman, on Saturday, and Newman hardly distinguished himself. The other scholarship quarterback, Tayvon Bowers, is a redshirt freshman who was beaten out by a freshman. Bowers has yet to see the field.

John Wolford started at quarterback for four seasons. That means Clawson and his staff had four seasons to recruit depth at football’s most critical positions. Seven games through his fifth season, Clawson does not have a quarterback who appears capable of winning games against upper-division ACC competition.

Or if he does, he’s not playing him.

As it stands today, your guess is as good as mine.

A Sweetheart of a Show

It’s a good thing that guitars, being inanimate and all, can’t read.

And I can only hope that no one mentions what I’m about to write in earshot of Buckshot, my vintage 1967 Gibson J-45. She’s a beautiful old girl, but she can be a bit jealous.

I love her sunburst hue just fine, and wouldn’t want her turning green on me.

But truth is I saw the guitar of my dreams last night while attending an unforgettable show at a fabulous venue, the DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center. My compadre, Lenox Rawlings and I made our way down to Durham to catch the 50th Anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo Tour, and anybody who knows me knows just how down my alley that kind of music has always been.

The billed stars were two of the original Byrds, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, along with Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. From the moment I heard McGuinn’s infamous 12-string Rickenbacker, I knew I was at the right place at the right time.

We loved every note of the show, one of the best I’ve seen.

By the end, however, I had concluded there were two more stars that weren’t on the bill and didn’t sing a note.

One was Gram Parsons, a special hero of mine whose inherent knowledge and reverence of country music convinced the Byrds in the first place to travel to Nashville and record a country album.

Gram’s rocky ride through life, tragically, ended in a low-budget hotel at Joshua Tree in September of 1973, at the tender age of 26. So he was there in spirit only last night, but his presence was pervasive.

As I written before, the Gram Parsons story is the great biopic yet to be done. I wrote a song that could serve as the theme, titled the Kid From Waycross, so hopefully somebody will get around to the project in time to make me rich and famous.

Joined the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo,

Was hanging around with the Stones in the south of France

Next thing you know,

And for the Kid

That was a long, long way from Waycross.

There have been two biographies of Gram that I know of. The first, Hickory Wind, written by Ben Fong-Torres in 1991, was not bad. The second, Twenty Thousand Roads, written by David N. Meyer in 2008, was much better.

Want to see the Kid in all his splendor?

Check out the cover,

Of the Flying Burrito Brothers,

Gilded Palace of Sin,

The Kid From Waycross.

I heartily recommend Twenty Thousand Roads for anyone interested in how that meld between country music and rock came down in the late 1960s (Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released in 1968) and early 1970s. That was along the same time the Band was in full swing and the Grateful Dead was putting out two of my favorite albums of all time, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

I was late teens and early 20s.

I was single.

I was living in Chapel Hill.

And that was the soundtrack of those best of all possible days.

The other star was Marty Stuart’s bender guitar, which, like Buckshot, has a name. Marty calls him Clarence, in honor of the original owner, the inestimable Clarence White.

Clarence, like Gram, died way too young. He was only 29 in 1973 when a drunk driver slammed into him while he was loading an amplifier in the car following a show by The Kentucky Colonels, featuring Clarence and his brothers Roland and Eric.

I was never lucky enough to see Clarence White play, but those who did swear he was as good as it gets. His recordings bear that out. Thankfully Andy Griffith was prescient enough to capture the talents of Clarence and Roland on the Andy Griffth Show, the greatest show in the history of television.

And Gram wrote about him in the song, In My Hour of Darkness.

Another young man safely strummed his silver-stringed guitar

And he played for people everywhere, some say he was a star

But he was just a country boy, his simple songs confess,

And the music he had in him, so very few possess.

Clarence left behind a wife, two kids and one of the most famous guitars in history. What made Clarence, the bender guitar, so famous, was the amazing sound that came from the modifications made by Clarence, the guitarist, and a friend named Gene Parsons.

They were striving for a steel-guitar sound from an electric guitar, and accomplished that with mechanism that raised the B-string a whole step when downward pressure was applied to the strap. Marty bought Clarence, the bender guitar, from Clarence White’s widow, and last night those of us at DPAC had the great pleasure of hearing what he sounds like in the hands of a real guitar god.

Dozens of people had told me I just had to see Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives live, and all of them were right. Two people I’ve always considered the personification of music are David Hildago (of Los Lobos) and Buddy Miller. After last night, I’ve added Marty Stuart to that list.

And on the list of greatest guitars, I’ve finally seen one I might even trade Buckshot in for.

But let’s keep that just to ourselves.