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Wake to Brethren: Thanks for Nothing!

Special Feature
Wednesday, August 29, 2001

By Ron Cherubini

Deac Lineman and his Coach Give Props to ECU


WINSTON-SALEM—In the verbal tempest that followed a pair of careless July comments by North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato and North Carolina's Ryan Sims, there is at least one group of ACC football players who might well be be muttering to their conference brethren a collective, “Thanks a lot, guys!”

Wake Forest doesn’t have the luxury that Amato had when he complained that East Carolina's practice of selectively admitting a handful of non-qualifiers creates a so-called unlevel playing field versus the Pirates.

Conveniently for Amato, the Wolfpack doesn't face ECU again until a 2004 match-up in Charlotte.

The Demon Deacons don't have the time UNC's Sims has, either.  The Heels' defensive lineman, who made unflattering remarks about the stature of the Pirate football program, doesn't have to take the field to back up his words until October 6, when his team hosts ECU in Chapel Hill.

Conversely, Wake must travel to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to open its season on Saturday and its personnel can't afford to play fast and loose with words.

With kickoff approaching, the Deacon coaches and players are expressing nothing but respect for the Pirates and excitement for the opportunity to test their new system against a top-25-calibre team.

For the Deacs, ECU represents one of the strongest teams they will face this year and a chance to see, right away, if they will have the mettle to compete in the ACC.

“Right now, everything we are doing… everything we think about… everything is focused on that game at East Carolina,” senior offensive guard Mike Moosbrugger said in an interview a few weeks ago. “To open against ECU, a team ranked 23rd in the country (Sporting News) at a very tough place to play is all you can ask for when you are a college football player.

"That game will set the tone. In the past, I think a lot of guys had a tendency to look ahead in the schedule (to the ACC games). But not for this game. ECU is our sole focus.”

Moosbrugger was a red-shirt freshman the last time these teams met—in a 25-24 Pirate victory that saw ECU needing a late Dan Gonzalez to Scott Harley touchdown play to rally for the win.

So, obviously, the 'focus only on ECU' talk is not just rhetoric.

Take Moosbrugger for example. During his first three seasons, he played at 320 pounds in an offense that was predicated on straight-ahead power. That was in the Jim Caldwell era.

Wake Modeling Itself After Pirates?

In the new Jim Grobe regime, things are changing at Wake.

Like his mates on the offensive line, Moosbrugger’s rallying cry is “leaner, stronger, and faster.” The mammoth 6-7 O-lineman is down to 290 pounds and he is the fastest he has ever been. Gone are the bench press numbers, giving way to the power clean and squats.

Wake’s program is heading in a new direction and it’s one that might look pretty familiar to the Pirate faithful.

Consider this:  One of Grobe’s first changes was to redefine the entire strength and conditioning program.

The new program focus is on fourth-quarter conditioning. Bench press numbers are not as important as squats and power cleans.

Speed development is at the top of the list. “We won’t lose games in the fourth quarter.” Sound familiar?

Grobe’s Ohio teams were known for being rushing powerhouses. In fact, Grobe’s Ohio club finished second to Nebraska last year in rushing offense, using the option to tear up opposing defenses.

But at Wake, it will be different. A more balanced attack is in the works, sometimes employing a no huddle offense, designed for speed.

Guards become tackles. Quarterbacks run by design. Receivers are tall and powerful. Running backs can hit the seam. Ever seen that before?

And the defense, well, the defense at Wake is changing, too.

The Zone Blitz is in. Linebackers become ends. Safeties become linebackers. No reading and reacting, but rather, the dogs will be turned loose to get to the ball. Interesting, huh?

Though they won’t say that they are modeling their program after their neighbors to the East, offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke did reveal one thing: He was glued to the television watching the Pirates dismantle Texas Tech in the Bowl.

“I watched that bowl game against Texas Tech,” Lobotzke said. “That defense was incredible. The way they beat up Texas Tech was impressive.

"(ECU) is about as tough an opponent to prepare for in a first game that there is. Scheme-wise, they do a lot on defense. Their guys are never in the same place, they are always moving. They make you try and put a body on moving targets. I’d prefer an opponent that would line up and hold still for us.”

New Deac Staff Didn't Inherit Empty Cupboard

Though Lobotzke had great things to say about the Pirate offense and David Garrard, he had a tendency to keep taking the conversation back to the Pirate defense.

“Against ECU, we are going to try and keep the offense simple," he said. "To run North and South and see if our guys can get their guys tied up.

"If we can, we should be able to run the ball straight ahead and pick the seams. If we can’t get on those guys... right away we’ll know what it’s going to be like this season.”

Lobotzke and Moosbrugger visualize the ECU game as an opportunity to launch their season with a major statement.

“We sure could use a win against (ECU),” Lobotzke said. “Beating a ranked team would give us a great deal of confidence heading into N.C. State and Western Illinois.”

Moosbrugger is anticipating the game as much as any in his career.

“We have a chance to make a statement,” he said. “A win at ECU will let us know that we are going to be a good team. We want to be able to play with the Florida States, the Georgia Techs and the Clemsons.”

Lobotzke pointedly noted that one thing Wake has going for it in preparation for this game is its new-look defense. It's about 75 percent the same as the Pirates, he said, but he acknowledged that at this early stage, the Deacons are not likely to be replicating ECU's efficiency and skill level.

That being said, Lobotzke is not selling the calibre of Wake's players short.

“This team is not 2-9 talent,” he said referring to last season’s disappointing campaign. “We should win a few more games than that this season.

Right now, they are zeroing in on the Pirates and only the Pirates.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

02/23/2007 02:07:26 PM

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