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Freshman gets big number - and runs with it

Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe still isn't sure how freshman quarterback Tanner Price wound up wearing No. 11, the number previously worn by the record-setting and recently graduated Riley Skinner.

Skinner had barely left Wake Forest's leafy campus when Price arrived from Austin, Texas, where he had done the Friday night lights thing, leading his Westlake High team to the state 5A championship game only to lose in overtime last season.

Grobe sensed he had something in Price, a 6-foot-2 left-hander with short-cropped blond hair, but he wouldn't have been presumptuous enough to hand him Skinner's numerical legacy.

"I probably wouldn't have given him No. 11," Grobe said Saturday after his Deacons had won a 54-48 victory over Duke in what felt like a video game at times. "That's a lot of pressure...but he looked pretty good."

If Price looked like the Deacons' quarterback of the future before Saturday, his cool-headed performance after starter Ted Stachitas left the game with a hand injury likely changed the timeline. It was not unlike the moment four years ago when Skinner, a redshirt freshman, stepped in when Ben Mauk was lost in the season opener to a broken arm.

Grobe and the Deacons may revert to their planned two-quarterback system when they visit Stanford next Saturday if the bruise on the back of Stachitas' left hand has improved enough to allow him to pitch the ball effectively. But Price figures to be the starter at Stanford, and with his no-sweat style he may stay there.

What Price showed Saturday is a quick grasp of the Deacons' offense. They've reverted to more of an option attack, feeling they became too reliant on Skinner's passing, particularly last season.

Stachitas may have the edge as a runner, but Price ran a similar offense in high school and isn't afraid to duck his shoulder at times. He did it against Duke, bulling ahead for a couple of extra yards on one carry.

"I did my best," Price said, sounding almost embarrassed by his effort.

In a game confettied with big numbers, Price's were impressive. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Price also ran for 56 yards, contributing 246 total yards to the Deacons' 500-yard total.

It became clear early in preseason practice that Price had the best arm of the four players vying for the quarterback job. He has a quick, simple release and can whistle the ball to his receivers.

What couldn't be known until the season began was how Price would handle standing in the pocket, waiting for his receivers to come open, or how he would manage a game with no college experience. Against Duke, with the Deacons needing to keep the offensive pressure on to stay ahead in the scoring contest, Price looked like, well, Skinner.

"Just watching him you would never be able to tell by his demeanor and the way he executed and ran the offense that he was a freshman," Grobe said.

Price chose Wake Forest over Stanford and Rice because he liked the combination of football and academics in Winston-Salem. He knew Skinner would be gone and there was an opportunity to play at Wake Forest, an opportunity he has seized.

When Grobe sees No. 11 on the field now, he sees a slightly bigger version of Skinner, one that runs better than his predecessor but possesses similar characteristics. They're both "low ego guys" in Grobe's words.

Four years ago against Duke, Grobe remembers hanging the game on Skinner's shoulders and winning. The same thing happened with Price Saturday. Same number. Same result.

Price didn't ask for No. 11. He wore 10 in high school. Someone just handed him 11 when he arrived at Wake Forest. "It's definitely a big number," Price said. "But it's just a number."

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