Without getting too carried away in the comparison, Isaiah Isaac did his best Greg Dortch imitation on Monday night. Isaac, a redshirt freshman whose diminutive size is similar to Dortch’s, had a pair of touchdowns in the first scrimmage of fall camp.
On Tuesday night, Isaac — along with about 10 other Deacons — was involved with more Dortch imitations in the aspect that remains the biggest mystery for Wake Forest’s football team.
The Deacons are sorting out who will be their kick and punt returners.
“I knew they were looking for somebody; they told me earlier in the summer that they were looking for people to return, so in the summer I was kind of working at it, getting with (kicker Nick) Sciba, getting kicks, working at it, working at it,” Isaac said after Tuesday night’s practice. “I knew it was an opportunity back there. I’m still working on it right now.”
The Deacons went to an evening practice for the first time in fall camp, getting started around 7:30 and ending around 9:15. Since Monday night’s scrimmage was from 6:30-8:30 p.m., it made sense to not have the team back on the field in the morning with what would have been 12 hours of rest.
“This was helmets only and we covered a ton of special teams situations,” said Coach Dave Clawson. “We had the scrimmage (Monday night), we want to take the pads off. And then you don’t want to do anything that the kids can end up on the ground.”
Replacing Dortch, an All-America selection at returner, was always going to be a tough task. Last season he became the first Deacon in 101 years to record two punt return touchdowns in a game, and his 1,750 all-purpose yards in 12 games last season ranks second-best in school history.
Beyond Dortch, Wake Forest lost its next three returners, too. Alex Bachman, Matt Colburn II and Chuck Wade Jr. were all well-versed in kick and/or punt returning, and all three were seniors.
“We covered a lot of things on special teams,” Clawson said of Tuesday’s practice. “Some punt return stuff, some specialty kicks we have on kickoff, put in another kickoff return.”
To get into the nuts and bolts, Wake Forest had 32 punt returns and 25 kick returns last season. Returning players on the roster technically account for one punt return and two kick returns — Sage Surratt was credited with one punt return for no gain; Christian Beal-Smith and Ryan Smenda Jr. — yes, the linebacker — each had a 20-yard kick return.
Isaac is one of a handful of Deacons in the mix to be a kick returner, Clawson said. The others are Kendall Hinton, Beal-Smith, Jaquarii Roberson, Taylor Morin and Kenneth Walker.
The number of candidates at punt returner has been trimmed.
“We were hoping it’s Kendall, but Kendall needs to start getting reps,” Clawson said of the senior, who has been limited by hamstring tightness. “So I would say punt returner right now is Kendall, Sage (Surratt) and (freshman) Taylor Morin, is probably going to factor in there. There’s a chance that (Morin) could be wind up being our returner.”
With opportunity up for grabs at both returner and slot receiver — Isaac and Morin are competing to be the third slot, or second for as long as Hinton is sidelined — it meant double-duty this summer for Isaac.
“You’ve definitely gotta balance it out because you’ve gotta get with the quarterbacks, throwing with them for a certain amount of time,” Isaac said. “But it’s work, so in the afternoons, the weekends, I would go throw with Jamie and later I would call Sciba and, ‘You want to go kick later on today?’
“Just balance it out, because I knew we needed returners.”