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The miracle of Wake football actually began in the middle of last season on a day when the Deacons were crushed 39-0 by Maryland. So impressed with the strength and conditioning of the Maryland players was Mackovic that he asked Terp Coach Jerry Claiborne how he did it. Weight training, said Claiborne. The next day Mackovic instituted a mandatory year-round weight-training program for the Deacons. Last year, he says, maybe two of his players could press their weight 15 times. Now 75% of them can. By this fall, Offensive Guard Syd Kitson, a 232-pounder in 1978, weighed 252 and was twice as strong. Bill Ard, the other guard, added 30 pounds, up to 262. "We don't get pushed around anymore," says Mackovic.
The program also helped McDougald, Wake's alltime leading rusher (3,381 yards), and Nose Guard James Parker, a quick tackier who is the emotional heart of Wake's defense. After the win over Georgia, Parker stumbled off the field and fell to the ground. His teammates thought he was injured. But Parker was just being Parker. He cried, then laughed, and before getting up grabbed a handful of turf and stuffed it in his sock to take back home.
But if weight training helped McDougald, Ard, Kitson and Parker, it resurrected Jay Venuto. Concentrating on strengthening his legs, the junior quarterback lost 20 pounds and has become quicker and more elusive. Last year he was a redshirt who had yet to take a varsity snap. During spring practice this year, Offensive Coordinator Mike Working called him into his office. He showed Venuto statistics of the three most recent scrimmages.
"Who do you think ought to be our No. 1 quarterback?" Working asked.
"I think I should."
"So do we," said Working. "From now on you line up at No. 1."
Right now Venuto is the nation's 13th-ranked passer and fifth in completions with 153 (out of 270 attempts) for the season. On Saturday alone, by completing 23 passes for 358 yards against Auburn, he broke four Wake passing records, two of them—season yardage (2,000) and attempts (270)—held by Norm Snead since 1960. "I can't really justify what's happened to me," Venuto says. "I dreamed about it. I had a bit of it in high school. It seems like everything's happening so fast. I haven't had a chance to pinch myself and say, hey, wake up."
"His greatest asset is awareness," Mackovic says. "Once he knew where everybody on the field would be, his confidence just soared."
Two days before the Auburn game, Mackovic spoke at a Wake boosters' luncheon. "It would be wrong to think that Wake Forest has arrived," he told his audience. "It isn't as if we've suddenly become an ACC power." But they sure have become something. This Saturday they take on 5-2 Clemson. Better wear your lightning rods. Tigers.