Running BacksGrobe learned to use an option ground attack during his 11 seasons as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy, and he took that philosophy him to Ohio. In 2000, his final season with the Bobcats, the team finished second in the nation with 323.0 rushing yards per game.
So it's no surprise that Grobe turned the pass-oriented Deacons into a well-grounded squad that had three capable running backs last year, when Wake led the ACC and was 10th in the nation with 221.6 rushing yards.
Grobe means for that average to improve, because all three of his regular tailbacks return this season. Never mind that the Demon Deacons lose two starters on the offensive line. "We feel like we have three tailbacks that we can win with,'' Grobe said in the spring. By June, that number was reduced to one.
The leader in the backfield, senior Williams (5-10, 178), underwent surgery in mid June to repair a broken bone in his foot. Williams was supposed to be of commision for eight to 10 weeks, which means he would miss games against Northern Illinois, East Carolina and N.C. State.
Grobe heard the bad news about Williams only a day after he learned junior Fred Staton would be academically ineligible for 2002.
The loss of Williams and Staton left Wake with junior Nick Burney and redshirt freshman Cornelius Birgs as its primary running backs.
Williams is a workhorse who has led the Deacons in rushing the last two years. He emerged last year as one of the top tailbacks in the conference, finishing second to ACC Offensive-Player-of-the-Year Bruce Perry in rushing yards, with 1,018 yards to go along with 10 rushing touchdowns. For that, he was selected second-team All-ACC tailback.
Williams became the eighth 1,000-yard rusher in school history. He suffered a sprained ankle in the spring that kept him out of a majority of the drills, allowing his two backups to get more repetitions. Staton (6-0, 210) and Burney (6-3, 214) split time in the backfield, going through a second spring of learning Grobe's offensive system.
Staton, overweight at the beginning of last year, trimmed down during the season and rushed for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. With Williams on the sideline, Staton was the star of the team's spring game, gaining 157 yards on 15 carries despite weighing more than 220 pounds.
Burney scored two touchdowns and gained 139 yards, but saw his playing time increase as the season went along. He had his best game of the season when Williams was out against Virginia, gaining 67 yards on 10 carries.
Blue Ribbon AnalysisIn his first season, Grobe matched the number of winning seasons that predecessor Jim Caldwell had in eight years.
This year, no team in the conference returns more starters than the Demon Deacons, and there is certainly an opportunity for Grobe's second edition to compete for a spot in the league's upper division and nab one of the bowl spots that would come after a second-consecutive winning season.
That would be a remarkable achievement at a school that has rarely tasted football success, with only five bowl appearances and one ACC title in the 49-year history of the league.
Grobe has a history of taking on major challenges and finding success, as he did when he took over a struggling Ohio program. If he can do the same thing at Wake Forest, we will proudly give him the title of Miracle Worker.
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