The heart of Wake Forest High’s defensive line is gone.
Two of the Cougars’ four dynamic running backs are gone.
Yet Wake Forest football remains pretty much the same.
“I think our team doesn’t change a whole lot year in and year out,” coach Reggie Lucas said.
Upon the exit of former Cougars star Dexter Lawrence, the state’s top recruit of 2016 who inked with Clemson, defensive lineman Xach Gill will have a chance to shine. Though rushers Tyri Beard and Shy’heem Mitchell graduated, Wake Forest is reloaded at running back.
Wake Forest averaged 41.5 points a game last season, and top rusher Devon Lawrence, Dexter’s younger brother, led the Cougars with 1,335 rushing yards (111.3 a game) and 23 rushing touchdowns. The Cougars collected 3,881 rushing yards as a team.
Quarterback Chris James will return for his junior year after playing a full season. The passing game will add a layer to Wake Forest’s Wing-T-based offense.
Defensively, the Cougars allowed the fewest points among their Cap-8 opponents, with 8.5 a game on the year (5.4 in the conference).
Gill and N.C. State commit Darius Hodge are expected to be leaders on that side of the ball. Hodge, a rising senior linebacker, had 65 tackles last year, second behind Dexter Lawrence’s 91. Hodge added eight sacks.
What does the defensive line look like without Dexter Lawrence?
This year, Lucas is confident other players will step up, including Gill. Losing Lawrence may even benefit some of the Cougars.
Gill said he’ll use what Lawrence taught him in the seasons they worked alongside each other.
Will Wake Forest be at the top of the Cap-8 again?
Wake Forest is 14-0 in the league over the last two seasons. In 2015, it outscored other conference teams 269-38.
The Cougars received seven first-place votes in the preseason poll.
“I think you can’t predict the winner of the Cap-8,” Lucas said. “Playing in a competitive conference, we have to be ready every week.”
How much more efficient will the offense be?
The running back corps rushed for more than 3,880 yards last season. Four backs divided the responsibilities over the year, and two, Mitchell and Beard, have graduated. The pair combined for 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“We’re going to be young on offense, but they’re going to be expected to put up the numbers of last year’s team,” Lucas said. “I think we have the talent and ability to do that. We’re young, but we had guys last year that played with that unit.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
More on the Cougars
Last year: 12-1 (7-0 Cap-8 4A), 4AA second round
Five-year average:12-2 (6-1)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 2
Offense: Pistol Wing-T
Contributors: Devon Lawrence (Jr., RB), Xach Gill (Sr., DL), Darius Hodge (Sr., LB), Chris James (Jr., QB)
The number: 16 — Interceptions last season
Aug. 19 at Panther Creek
Aug. 26 vs. Apex
Sept. 2 at Southeast Raleigh
Sept. 9 vs. Rolesville
Sept. 16 BYE
Sept. 23* vs. Broughton
Sept. 30* at Millbrook
Oct. 7* vs. Wakefield
Oct. 14* at Heritage
Oct. 21* vs. Leesville Road
Oct. 28* at Sanderson
Nov. 4* vs. Enloe
*-Conference game; all games 7 p.m. start