I sit in the stands at Truist Field. A Wake Forest undergraduate student bangs the big drum, setting the tone for the other band members. Thump, thump, thump.
I feel that thump in my belly. The thump cues me in that football is about to be played. You’ve felt it. We all have. Even as kids when we first started going to football games, marching bands jumpstarted our souls.
There’s nothing quite like that thump in your belly sensation before the Demon Deacons take the field here at Truist Field.
The noise foreshadows like in a well-crafted emotional novel. We’re five months away from Wake’s opening football game of the 2022 season. Yet football feels present.
It’s the annual Spring football game where Wake Forest players scrimmage each other in a light-hitting scrimmage for the crowd of several hundred cravings an off-season football fix.
I start scouting the new squad, looking for new players I haven’t seen before, guys who will take this team not just from Good to Great, which was the trajectory of last year’s unforgettable team, but from Great to national champions, edging Alabama in the national title game.
A few guys gain my attention. Redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Griffis leads that list. Looks like an above-average athlete. Once he masters Wake’s patented run-pass option (RPO) delayed mesh scheme, he’s going to make it tough for ACC linebackers and defensive backs because he’s got the giddy-up to run away from them.
But I get ahead of myself. I spot Sammy “One More Year Mother So Dear” Hartman firing bullets at slashing receivers. All of us should feel excited and inspired knowing Sammy Dear decided to come back for one more year after passing the pigskin all over the world last season including for some 40,000 yards against Army.
Don’t you love guys who stay in college, rather than chase the NFL money, because they want to enjoy the college student-athlete experience? Shows character and wisdom.
I noticed a second guy, Gavin Ellis, a 6-foot five-inch, 226-pound tight end. Like Griffis, he’s a redshirt freshman and stands out for his athletic movements. Caught a TD in the scrimmage. I can see Sammy RPO meshing in 2022, deciding to pass, and hitting Ellis for clutch, second-half catches throughout the season.
And there stood on the field Spencer Clap, all six foot six inches and 302 pounds of him, anchoring the offensive line. It’s comforting to know the redshirt senior will return because he stabilizes this football team, and gives it an even-keel, street cred. Huge, smart, tough, and consistent, Clap gives me a warm feeling inside that our offensive line will be solid in 2022. Nothing’s going to intimate Clap in 2022.
After the game, I joined the hundreds of kids, parents, and girlfriends on the field. Took a photo of one of the stars of last year’s team, Taylor Morin. As a freshman, he proved he’s a legitimate ACC wide receiver and he’ll be even better in 2022 because the guy catches every ball thrown his way and fields punts reliably. That won’t change.
But I have to ask: Was Sammy Sportface Jocksniffing when he got within 10 feet of Morin?
Was he violating some NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rules by snapping pictures of Morin without his consent? Maybe. But those NIL rules remain murky so let’s not overthink this.
I couldn’t leave the field before clicking a few shots of the emperor of Wake Forest football, the most eloquent and erudite coach in all NCAA athletics, the guy who has resurrected this program and lifted it to national relevance and last season’s #14 national final ranking.
I hail, of course, head coach Dave Clawson. Fans lined up 40 yards deep to get a picture of the fearless leader plus his autograph. Pressured to meet an editorial deadline, I just stood to his side and snapped several pictures of him.
Without his permission. NIL violation?
Nobody cares. Nobody knows.
Seeing the big guy, my day had been made whole. It amounted to a spiritual cleansing experience.
Ever since the ACC championship game when Pitt faked injuries to slow Wake’s offense, I had been in a funk mostly at Pitt and disappointed the party in Charlotte with the biggest gathering of Wake Forest people in history never happened.
Because they lost the game. A bit embarrassing.
That night I drove towards South Carolina even though I live in North Carolina just to get away from that stadium where the sadness crushed me. I wanted to party with all those Wake people after that ACC title – throughout the night – but none of us were in the mood. Big losses don’t beget fun parties.
I can’t decide what felt worse. How I sunk that night or a few weeks earlier when Wake blew a 22-point fourth-quarter lead at Carolina. That crushed me. In one-quarter of football in Chapel Hill, the perfect season Wake cracked into a million scattered and disjointed pieces.
But in the end, the team regathered and impressed all of us with a whipping of Rutgers in the bowl game.
It’s taken me months to overcome the emotions of Wake Forest’s 2021 football season. As great as it was in so many ways, it left scars on my soul.
Those scars have had months to heal. And yesterday’s Spring game made me realize I’ve made a full recovery.
In a few months, you and I will hear that drum thumping before and during the 2022 Wake Forest football games.
Deep inside our bellies.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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