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Sitting in an athletic department office at Wake Forest this summer, wide receiver Desmond Clark was trying to explain the biggest change in the Demon Deacons' football program when the answer suddenly seemed to erupt from beneath his feet. At that moment, one floor directly below Clark, one of his teammates had just cranked up a Smashing Pumpkins tune on the weight-room stereo. The beat emanating from below was so loud that it jangled a set of keys lying on the desk next to Clark. With pleasant conversation all but impossible, the senior wideout just pointed to the floor as if to say, "There's your answer."
One of the first issues coach Jim Caldwell addressed after leaving Joe Paterno's staff at Penn State in 1992 to take the Wake Forest job was upgrading the team's weight room. As the facility has grown, so too have the Demon Deacons. Once the runts of the ACC, they have the most returning starters in the conference (16) and a new bravado to go with all that brawn. "There has been a tremendous change in this team physically," says Caldwell, 14-41 at Wake. "And that new stature has permeated everything we do."
Caldwell's plan has been to redshirt virtually every freshman (he had done so with 60 of the 65 players on this spring's roster) and lock them in the weight room for a year so they can grow in strength and confidence. The 6'3" Clark, for example, came to Wake a flabby 216 pounds. Four years later he's 248 with 9% body fat and is 37 catches away from becoming the ACC's alltime leading receiver. Clark's rapport with senior quarterback Brian Kuklick gives him the freedom to switch routes on the fly for longer gains, while his power allows him to exploit the man-to-man coverage most ACC teams use.
But for the Deacons to prosper, Clark must also put his muscles—he benchpresses 350 pounds—to work as a blocker, cracking back on linebackers to spring a runner: Morgan Kane up the middle or Chris McCoy around the corner. In the past the Deacons' weak rushing attack (12th-worst in the nation in '97) has allowed teams to flood the passing zones and shut down Kuklick. Unable to control the clock last season, Wake Forest lost four games in which it led at halftime. "Brian and Desmond are very, very dangerous and explosive," says Caldwell. "But for all of that to work, we have to be strong rushing the ball."
The Deacons must be equally committed to stopping the rush. If not, they might as well convert their weight room back into an indoor tennis court, as it was before. Right now the room is decorated with a countdown calendar for the opener against Air Force and portraits of former Deacons greats like Brian Piccolo. There are also charts that honor the team's strongest players, such as 6'5" junior defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who, at 312 pounds, has surprisingly not yet been nicknamed Baskin by his teammates; senior linebacker Kelvin Moses, who runs a 4.4 40; and junior linebacker Dustin Lyman, who led the team with 91 tackles. Despite a subpar secondary, this unit cut its rushing yards allowed per game from 254.5 in 1996 to 96.1 last season (10th in the nation), the biggest such improvement in the country. The goal for '98? "Zero yards per rush," says Lyman.
"There was a time when we would look across the field and it seemed like we were a lot smaller than everybody else," Lyman adds. "Now we can compete physically with anybody. I guess we all got sick of hearing those stupid David and Goliath speeches and decided to do something about it."
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