Photo: Dave Clawson
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NCAA’s recent rule change permitting freshmen to play up to four games without burning their redshirt season was met with universal approval, but the media buzz sounded like a golf clap.
Not so when the ruling reached Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson. He celebrated.
He freely describes his ACC school as a developmental program, meaning the Demon Deacons rely heavily on developing three-star and two-star athletes. Not many 4-stars are interested in the Winston-Salem school.
“Oh, I think for Wake Forest, it's great,” Clawson said of the rule change on Thursday at the ACC Kickoff. “I think that rule helps Wake Forest as much as any program in the country because we probably redshirt a half to three-quarters of our freshmen every year.”
Under the old rule, playing in one game burned a freshman's season, leaving him with only three remaining instead of four. With the new rule plenty of schools benefit, but the bonus for Wake Forest is it's harder than other schools to find walk-on athletes.
“The nature of the school, being private, very academic, it's hard to get guys in,” said Clawson, using private to mean expensive. “We don't get a lot of walk-ons. So if we redshirt, let's say, 15 players or 18 players, and now all of a sudden all those guys get four games that they haven't got before, to me that's 60 to 80 more player games that we get. And I just think it helps keep the freshmen engaged.”
Playing four games also can bolster Wake Forest’s depth in real time. The experience benefit adds each season, especially as a fifth-year senior.
The two Wake Forest players Clawson brought to the ACC Kickoff at the Westin Hotel – a pair of fifth-year seniors, defensive lineman Willie Yarberry and offensive guard Phil Haynes --both said they would have gained greatly from the rule if it had been in place for them. Offensive guard Phil Haynes and defensive lineman Willie Yarberry both arrived as two-star recruits and are now experienced fifth-year seniors.
Haynes, a 6-foot-4, 310-pounder, thought he was a basketball player until high school until his senior year, so he was still learning football when he arrived on campus. He learned quickly, started nine games as a redshirt freshman 2015; he was a full-time starter in 2016 and 2017. Last year he earned third-team All-ACC honors.
He was asked how his redshirt year compares to what it will be now for freshmen that can play in four games.
“Oh, it was so much different,” Haynes said. “I remember my redshirt year, I wasn’t going to play. Coach would say, ‘Put your helmet on the bench; don’t go in no matter what.’ He didn’t want to burn the redshirt. If I could have played it would have been unbelievable to where I am now. I’d have more experience. My redshirt year was difficult; I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
He had to be patient, but now he’s a team captain and hoping to build on NFL draft projections.
“You lose a year as an 18-year-old, but you gain a year as a 22- or 23-year-old. I’m stronger and faster. For me personally, I didn’t know too much about football when I got here.
Yarberry, a 6-2, 285-pounder, developed from two starts his redshirt sophomore year in 2016 to all 13 games as a redshirt junior last fall.
“It would have been nice to get the experience,” he said. “I would have had time to understand what it takes in college and not just be thrown in my redshirt freshman year. I think it helps you understand how college football is.”
Clawson didn’t waste any time drawing up a plan to implement the rule.
“We have a plan of how we're going to deal with it and how we're going to work it,” he said. “We've thought a lot about it, researched it, talked to people and we've talked as a staff. And I'm not going to share what that philosophy is, I think this will really help us.”
Clawson, who is entering his fifth year of rebuilding the program, pointed out his team was already looking forward to benefiting from its most depth since he took.
“Again, this is probably the most depth that we've had in my five years at Wake,” he said. “And then on top of that you have this new redshirt rule that those 15 to 20 guys that we typically would redshirt that you now have available for four games. I think it'll help us on special teams. It'll help us in our different personnel packages, and I'm excited about it. I think it's really going to help us.”
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