Bill Faircloth in his office
Assistant athletics director for football Bill Faircloth (’64) admires the loyalty Grobe has instilled in his staff.

In his first five seasons at Wake Forest, Jim Grobe redshirted 114 of his 123 recruits. Most coaches pay lip service to redshirting in theory—that an extra year allows a guy to develop strength, maturity, and knowledge of the system. But when it’s all on the line, many coaches—especially those who feel they must win now—won’t hesitate to play a true freshman.

Redshirting is holding players out of competition their freshman year to defer their four years of eligibility.

Not Grobe. He never rushed a true freshman onto the field that he didn’t think was ready, physically or mentally, to compete at the highest level. His patience and discipline came to fruition last year, when he fielded a squad rich with fifth-year seniors, fourth-year-juniors, and third-year sophomores as starters and quality backups.

“We’re not afraid to play true freshmen; we’re afraid to waste true freshmen,” says Grobe, who acknowledges losing some recruits because of the policy. “What we don’t want to do is let a [freshman] cover six or seven kickoffs or be on the field goal and extra point team all year and waste a whole year of eligibility.

“What I tell the kids is, we want your four best years of football. If that means you’re good enough to play right away, you’ll play. I tell the position coaches that our benchmark is thirty snaps a game on offense or defense—not on special teams, but regular offensive and defensive sets. If they can’t promise me that, he’ll sit.”

Grobe’s absolute job security affords him the patience required of a successful redshirting strategy. “That allowed us to put the brakes on and slow down. I think we’ll continue having ten to fifteen fifth-year seniors every year, with good groups of fourth-year juniors and third-year sophomores. Those forty-five or so kids are going to comprise the lion’s share of our football team each season.”

One other factor bears mentioning. High-profile recruits—those with the eye-popping forty-yard-dash times and other spectacular measurables—are more prone to enter the NFL Draft early than the caliber of athlete Grobe is signing. Knowing they’ll lose them prematurely might discourage their coaches from redshirting them. Also, the top athletes want to play right away and are more likely to choose programs that play their true freshmen. Junior linebacker Jon Abbate’s early draft declaration notwithstanding, “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Grobe notes, “because most of our kids are committed to leaving here with a degree.”

A special feature of Wake Forest Magazine.

Story by David Fyten
Photos by Ken Bennett

Go to part:

1. Built to Last
2. Jim Grobe
3. Coaching-staff stability
4. Recruiting
5. Redshirting
6. Facilities

Football is more than just a game—it’s an event. It’s extremely important to have a championship-contending team to set the tone of positivity you want to carry through the year.

— Ron Wellman, director of athletics

I think what makes most coaches happy is when you finish a season and you look back and you know you got as much as you can out of your football team.

— Jim Grobe, Head Coach

For us as coaches, we are just trying to get every bit of energy and performance out of our team and if we can do that then we’ll just take whatever record-wise.

— Jim Grobe, Head Coach

Ever since we got up here for the summer and started training it’s been all about this year and not last year. It was fun last year but it’s over now. We’ve got a tough one ahead of us.

— Riley Skinner, sophomore quarterback

I think as a freshman everyone has aspirations of coming in and making an impact immediately…You have to realize that you’re a better player once you’re older. You get more acclimated to the system.

— Aaron Mason, senior safety

If there are long waiting lists for tickets, so much the better—that means the stadium is full of fans of Wake Forest and not of our opponents. What we envision it becoming, really, is the Wrigley Field of college football.

— Ron Wellman, director of athletics