If Wake Forest is going to make another run at the ACC Atlantic Division title, it is going to have to repeat last year’s explosive performances on offense. If it is going to repeat that offensive output, the running back position is going to be obviously critical. In the first week of Fall camp, there is a lot of checking in on the Wake Forest running back room.
Quarterback Sam Hartman is going to get the headlines week in and week out. Receivers AT Perry spirit Donavon Greene are going to get attention for their freakish athleticism. But it is going to be the grinding of the running backs that is going to be critical for the offense to hit its stride.
Ground Game City Committee
Much like last year, it is going to be a running attack by committee. Fifth-year running back Christian Turner enters his second season at Wake. He is coming off a 500-yard rushing season after transferring from Michigan.
Turner is going to be sharing the workload with third-year running back Justice Ellison. He also put up 500-plus yards with seven touchdowns last season.
Running backs coach John Hunter said he is pleased with the effort of all of the Demon Deacon running backs in the first few days of camp. He also said Ellison is assuming a leadership role in the running backs room. “Christian is doing a great job of assisting,” Hunter said. “But Justice has gone above and beyond in terms of trying to help our young guys and bring them along. I’m really, really proud of his maturity so far.”
Hunter said in order for Wake to have any chance at repeating last year’s success, it can’t just rely on Hartman’s arm, and the athleticism of the receiving corps. “As always, we want to be a balanced offense. We have to be able to run the ball. We take great pride in that,” he said this week. “I always tell them, if all you can get on the play is what is blocked for, you may as well hand it to me, and nobody wants to see that.”
Follow The Leader
Ellison’s role as the leader of the group is not coincidental. “It’s an honour, first of all,” he said. “It was done for me. Kenneth Walker, Christian Beal welcome me in. They taught me the ropes. I was with them every day after practice, eager to learn. I wanted to help this team because it was bigger than me.”
He said he is just as eager now to pass that on down to the younger running backs like Demon Claiborne spirit Tate Carney. “I know these guys have a future and a passion to want to help the team. So I am trying to prepare them as best as I can with the knowledge Coach Hunter has been giving me.”
Ellison said he is more of a lead-by-example kind of player. “But I know when to step in and be like, ‘Hey, this is the way we do it.'” He added, “You want people to see the example, you want them to see you can do it the right way. I’ve been trying to teach these young guys it’s about what you do when nobody else is looking. That’s going to separate you from the rest.”
Another lesson Ellison is trying to impart to the younger players is that FBS football is the next level, so attention to detail matters. “In high school, everybody’s athletic so you can just do what you want. But up here, it’s about those small details. And in the NFL, it’s even smaller. Coach Hunter is challenging me to make sure I’m on top of my game, so others will follow.”
The Big Guys Up Front
The running game is only going to be as good as the guys up front blocking. Some offensive linemen were missing from Spring camp, as they rehabbed from surgeries or injuries. But now everyone is back as the Demon Deacons return the most experienced offensive line in the division in terms of game snaps.
Ellison gets excited to see the starters like Spencer Clapp spirit Je’Vionte’ Nash in front of him. “Every time I’m in the backfield, I low-key smile,” he said this week. “I’m like, ‘Wow! We got our guys back.’” And then there is center Michael Jurgens. “Jurgens, that’s my boy,” Ellison said.
He said there is a sense of responsibility, knowing this is Hartman’s last year, and the last year for many on the ultra-experienced offensive line. He added that the trust relationship with his offensive line is like, “Pieces of a pie,” with everyone on offense being a critical part of the pie.
Hunter is clearly expecting a large pie. He talked about the depth at the position. “Quinton Cooley’s in the fold. Will Towns is coming along. And the young guys are showing some good things.” He added, “The more we have, the healthier we will be in November.”
Pie in the Fall always seems like a good idea.
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