WINSTON-SALEM — History has revealed that the head football coach at Wake Forest has reason to be concerned about any opponent, even one that has won only three games in its three seasons as a member of the Big South Conference.
But Presbyterian, a Football Championship Subdivision team, won’t be the only concern of Jim Grobe going into his Deacons’ opener at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at BB&T Field.
“First games are the scariest,” Grobe said at the outset of his 13th season at Wake Forest.
Coaches hate unknowns, which are too plentiful to count in a season opener. No matter how prepared the team, it can expect the unexpected once the opponent is wearing different uniforms.
“There are things that aren’t a science,” Grobe said. “Have you conditioned enough? Have you conditioned too much? Have you worked hard enough in the weight room? Have you worked too hard in the weight room? Have you practiced hard enough? Have you practiced too hard? Have you hit too much? Have you not hit enough? All those kinds of things, you don’t find out until you get to the first game.
“So preparing for the first game, I think it’s one of those deals where the players are over-the-top excited to get going, and the coaches are nervous. Everybody says: ‘Are you ready to get going?’ And you say: ‘I think I am. I think I’m ready to get going.’”
The Deacons will open with a confidence based on a deep, talented and seasoned senior class that has the added motivation of wanting to finally reap the kind of reward that would validate their careers.
“It’s our last go-around, and all of us want to finish on a really high note and leave our legacy here,” said quarterback Tanner Price, one of 13 seniors expected to play prominent roles. “I think we’re all very hungry and feel we have a lot to prove.”
All 13 of those seniors also have the memory of last season’s opener as reminder to give every opponent respect. The Deacons needed A.J. Marshall’s 39-yard interception return for a touchdown and a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to pull out a 20-17 home victory against Liberty.
Liberty, which outgained Wake Forest 363 yards to 293, is an established power in the Big South, whereas Presbyterian is 3-20 all-time in the conference. But coach Harold Nichols of the Blue Hose returns both quarterbacks who started last season — sophomores Kaleb Griffin and Tamyn Garrick — as well as an All-Big South linebacker in junior Donelle Williams, who led the team with 103 tackles.
Wake Forest has spent the offseason retooling its offense to put more emphasis on the running game, but Price said how much of the package the Deacons reveal will be dictated by need. Wake Forest will play its ACC opener Sept. 6 at Boston College.
“We’ll just play it by ear,” Price said. “If we come out, and we’re really successful early and get off to a good start, then we’ll probably hold back a little bit.
“If not, and it’s required we run some more stuff, we will.”
Grobe said he’s approaching the game with a different mindset.
“We’re trying to get the players to just focus on the first one,” Grobe said. “That second one, being an ACC game, it’s tough because you would hope the players aren’t looking beyond Thursday night.
“I don’t think they will because it’s our first game. But certainly the coaches aren’t. So we’re going to try to do all that good stuff that we think will help us win the first game.”
Shrinking Grobe’s comfort zone is the addition of Tommy Spangler to the Presbyterian staff as the new defensive coordinator.
“That gives us some concerns,” Grobe said. “Every year, depending on your personnel, things change.
“We’ve looked at them on video, but it’s a new season, so you’ve got to be ready for a lot of things. We’ve prepared for a lot of different things.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Charlotte Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/