Wake Forest’s football team ended its final practice of fall camp under the lights Tuesday night, and senior tight end Jack Freudenthal noticed something different as he was running across the field at the end of practice.
The Deacons’ Pit, which is the nickname for where injured players spend practice, had four players.
“Everyone else is practicing, which is completely different than every year I’ve been here,” Freudenthal said. “So that’s just awesome to see. Because having everybody out here and just going full speed makes all the difference.
“And all the older guys being there to lead all of the younger guys, if the older guys are hurt and stuff, you can’t lead. So having everybody on the field makes a huge difference.”
Wake Forest will take today off — it’s freshman move-in day, and the Deacons will help around campus and “try to convert some football fans here,” Coach Dave Clawson said — and then jump into preparation for Utah State on Thursday.
The Aug. 30 opener can now become the top priority, and the Deacons will do so with a cleaner bill of health because of a revamped approach to fall camp.
“We’ve never been able to give the threes this many reps,” Clawson said. “And that hurt us a year ago with all of our injuries, and our inability to give our threes reps, kind of created a snowball effect that kids that we then needed, we didn’t even prepare because we didn’t give them reps because of the injuries. I think our overall depth is better and I think we can go a little deeper.”
It’s evident at positions such as running back, which has all seven players available. At one point in spring practice, the Deacons were down to one healthy scholarship running back.
And at linebacker, the Deacons have an established top two with Justin Strnad and Ryan Smenda Jr., a third who can step in with fluidity in Ja’Cquez Williams, and then what Clawson called options 4-A and 4-B in freshman Chase Jones and redshirt sophomore Chase Monroe.
Wake Forest is only so far removed from entering that Florida State game last season with Strnad as the only healthy linebacker on the roster — and that was coming out of an off week.
“We, every day, did a comparison to that practice a year ago, what was the health of the football team?” Clawson said. “I don’t think there was any day that it wasn’t at least twice as better. I think the one extreme was one day a year ago we were at seven injuries, and this year three.”
The Deacons haven’t been immune to injuries — the most-significant is redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Tyler Williams, who suffered a knee injury about a week into camp and is questionable for the Utah State game. And receivers Kendall Hinton and Donavon Greene have missed chunks of practices, but have since returned to health — and returned to making standout plays.
Time, and games, will now be the indicators of how beneficial the injury-tracking Catapult system has been. But at this juncture of the season — less than 10 days until the opener at BB&T Field — the Deacons shouldn’t be overly concerned about who’s not on the field.
The focus becomes who’s on the field for the Aggies.
“You know, we’ve been working on Utah State all spring and summer, but that was before we knew what we were,” Clawson said of he and his coaching staff. “Now that we know a better idea of what we are, we’ll go back and tweak some things.
“Maybe some things that we thought we were going to do in May and thought we were going to do in July have changed a little bit.”
In essence, the Deacons have a better idea of the sum of their parts — because most of them are intact.