Transcript: Wake Forest at the 2019 ACC Kickoff

wake forestWake Forest coach Dave Clawson and players Cade Carney and Justin Strnad talk with reporters at the 2019 ACC Kickoff.

THE MODERATOR: We now welcome in Wake Forest.

We will ask Cade Carney to come up. Questions, please.

Q. Over a thousand yards rushing last season. What can you say about your play, your development, but give some respect to the offensive line?
CADE CARNEY: Last year that was one of the most exciting things going into the season. We had fifth, sixth-year seniors heading up our offensive line. They did a fantastic job as a thousand yards shows on my side, I think we had over 1,800 yards rushing. They did an amazing job all season last year. We battled injury early at our left tackle, and we responded. The guys did an awesome job throughout the year responding to that.

This year it’s really fun because the left tackle is back, Justin Herron, who is coming off of a knee, is healthy. He’s ready for his sixth year as a senior. We have Nate Gilliam, who is coming back as a senior, Jake Benzinger, who is coming back in their natural positions, ready to take that on.

Super excited for them. Then we have some places that are going to be filled with guys that we feel like have matured a lot and have grown into the position. They’re more than ready to take it on, Zach Tom in the center, who is a bright kid, really, really ahead of his age. I’m excited to play with him, have him IDing the front for me.

Looking for that left guard. Got really good competition, which is a great problem to have. Problem we didn’t have early in my career. We’re thankful for that. Super excited to see what happens there throughout camp.

Q. You and Matt Colburn have had phenomenal success running the football. This year it’s all you. How would you describe the Wake Forest offense, what part does tempo play in the success running the ball?
CADE CARNEY: Matt was a pleasure to play with. That was a fun three years. The minute I stepped on campus, he and I had a great relationship, ended up having awesome careers together.

But it won’t be just me this year. Christian Beal-Smith is electric, he’s fast, he can hit the edge. He’ll threaten teams with his speed and quickness. Then we’ll be a great complement because of how I play. Super excited to play with him, for him to kind of step into that role that Matt had.

But, yeah, so where we fit into our offense was we play fast. That’s helped us in the past. That’s helped defenses kind of show their hand early. That’s something that we have taken advantage of, our offensive coordinator does a great job of communicating to the quarterback, getting checks out, game planning for that.

So, yeah, playing fast has been a big help and a big ingredient in our success.

Q. Last year at this time we knew either Sam Hartman or Jamie Newman was going to be the starting quarterback, but didn’t know much about how they would be. Still going to be the first part of that is true, but we know a lot more. What have you seen from those two over the summer?
CADE CARNEY: The good thing about the two quarterbacks is I’ve been telling everyone this year, they both have a mean handoff. They do a great job of putting that ball in my gut. So it makes it easy for me.

The team trusts both of them. I think that’s important. There’s no division. I think we’re really excited for whoever ends up being named the starter.

I also don’t think that the guy who is playing second will be sitting all year. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had to rely on two quarterbacks. It’s a great thing this year we feel very confident with that. We don’t have to be worried as far as whatever could happen throughout the midst of a season, since I’ve been here, we’ve relied on two. I feel really good about the two that we’re going into camp with.

Q. Since the first day you stepped on campus, where has this program made its greatest strides?
CADE CARNEY: Yeah, I tell people I’ve been so lucky, at the time I showed up to Wake Forest, I showed up with a team that had gone 3-9 two times in a row, gone through a coaching change, it was down to a group of fourth and fifth-year seniors who loved football and really wanted to be great. For me, to learn under that, to step into that, a team who hadn’t experienced success, to go to the Military Bowl, have a big win, I couldn’t have learned under a better group ever guys when they were on their way out.

I feel like they’ve really kind of imparted that in the guys that were young at the time. Now that we’re seniors, we’re trying to do the same, to establish depth at this point. We’re really excited about it.

Q. I can’t help but notice how comfortable you look underneath the lights on stage, at the podium. That comfort seems like it translates to game day as well. Throughout your life, where does this level of ease or comfort come from?
CADE CARNEY: For me, I put my trust in Jesus Christ, and I believe in who God says I am. That’s where personally my ease and my peace of mind can come from. The ability to get up here and not be shaking or to read an article that says I’m a terrible player, should never run the ball again, or if I read an article that says I’m the best running back Wake Forest has ever seen, there’s no one that can compare to me.

I get to have the assurance of wherever I’m at to be even-keeled because God says that I’m a child of His and I’m loved and that I’m important and valued. That’s where I rest at night. At the end of the day, I believe in that opinion of me.

Q. Talk about Justin before we bring him up. What type of teammate is he?
CADE CARNEY: Justin is awesome. He’s one of the guys in the locker room, he’s so fun to be around. He’s probably one of the most competitive guys. If anyone wants to debate outside in the lobby, he’ll be ready to go, fire up with any sports team. He’s a sports junkie, that’s what he does, and he loves to talk about it.

On the field, Justin is one of those guys that we trust. He’s done an amazing job of kind of taking hold of the linebacker room, really the defense as a whole, getting everybody on the same page. They’ve gone through a lot on that side of the ball.

Justin has been one of those stabilizers on that side of the ball for us. Real excited to see what kind of year he has this season, but the defense as a whole, because he’s done a great job bringing those guys along this off-season.

THE MODERATOR: Justin, as you’re coming up, think about how you would describe Cade. That’s your first question.

JUSTIN STRNAD: So Cade, great teammate, ultimate competitor. He’s somebody that you have to bring your pads when you hit him each and every time in practice. He’s been a great teammate to have over the years.

He’s an unquestioned leader on the offense. Just a great teammate over the years.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Justin.

Q. Over a hundred tackles last season to lead the team. What can you say about your leadership role going into this season as well as some of the guys stepping up on defense?
JUSTIN STRNAD: Yeah, I think as a leader of the defense this year, it’s pivotal to get guys to buy in, have that winning mindset. We got some young guys on the defense this year, and it’s very important to teach them how to prepare for a game, how to take care of their bodies throughout the season.

For guys like Boogie Basham and Essang Bassey, those are guys that need to be leaders, to carry guys, build a unit that’s really going to push throughout the season and just develop each and every week.

Q. You struggled to get stops at times last season. There were three times where you got a stop, forced a punt, took the punt back to the house. That’s like one-sixth of the entire punt returns touchdowns of the league. Describe the energy boost that a defense gets when that happens.
JUSTIN STRNAD: Those are game changers. To be honest with you, with the tempo our offense plays with, any time we can have somebody like Greg Dortch take one to the house, it’s a little breather for the defense. You get a little time on the sidelines to catch your breath.

Those are always big plays, momentum swingers. Yeah, they’re really helpful to winning ballgames.

Q. You’re already a senior. How did that happen?
JUSTIN STRNAD: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. It flew by (smiling).

I just remember it feels like last year I was a redshirt, 190-pound freshman linebacker. It’s cool to see over the years the teammates I’ve had, the relationships I’ve built with some of the kids on this team. I’m excited for this season, to end it the right way.

Q. What has been the summer adjusting to Coach Hemphill’s defense? You had nine games to learn it last year, but that was in the middle of the season. What has it been like to have a full spring and summer to get adjusted in that system?
JUSTIN STRNAD: Yeah, it’s been good. We’re pretty similar from a structure standpoint. I think we’re going to have the ability to play a little more nickel this year. I think just the spring, along with this summer, it’s been good to understand more the scheme as opposed to technique.

We’ve thrown in some change-ups, some calls that I think are going to help us, big situations this year on third down, stuff like that. I think overall as a defense, I like the way we’re heading into this season.

Q. He said you were a sports junkie. I’m going to ask you a question: The commissioner was in here earlier talking about the ACC Network, ESPN. Do the players talk about that? Is it on your radar screen?
JUSTIN STRNAD: To be honest with you, we don’t talk too much about TV, all that type of deal. But obviously any time we get the opportunity to play on the ACC Network or ESPN, we’re obviously excited. I know we have an ESPN game against North Carolina this year, we’re looking forward to.

Really just the first game of the year, Utah State, I’m pretty sure that’s an ACC Network game. They’re a great team. Looking forward to opening the season with them and opening the season with a victory.

DAVE CLAWSON: Thanks, everybody, for coming out. Look forward to this season.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll bring your head coach up now, Coach Clawson. Questions, please.

Q. The North Carolina population continues to grow, and with that talent. Talk about how since you’ve gotten here you’ve adjusted your recruiting targets. Probably different for a private school.
DAVE CLAWSON: Your question is how we’ve adjusted recruiting?

Q. In-state, with the growing population.
DAVE CLAWSON: I think we’ve always prioritized in-state recruiting. It’s a little more difficult to recruit in-state when you’re 3-9 and 3-9. We’ve taken such a significant step in terms of becoming a perennial bowl team, we’ve had success. The other part that’s really helped us is Wake Forest has never made this type of facility and budget commitment to football.

Right now I think it’s very easy historically to think of us a certain way. I’d invite any one of you to come and now see our facilities. We have as nice an indoor as anybody in the country with the McCreary Field House, moved into the Sutton Sports Performance Center, opened the McCreary Nutrition Center. Our facilities now are competitive with anybody in the conference.

So I think when you now have a track record of success, you have facilities that are comparable with certainly everybody in the state, anybody in the conference, that helps draw better players.

We’ve seen a definite uptick in recruiting because of our bowl success and our winning season, but also the facility commitments and budget commitments we’ve made at Wake Forest. We don’t get every player we want, but we’re certainly getting a lot more of them. Whether it’s players like Cade Carney or Sage Surratt, when we first got there, those maybe weren’t guys we were competitive for.

Q. Your five years at Wake Forest, just what can you say your takeaways have been? You’re talking about building up the facilities. What have you learned as yourself as a coach and what you’re trying to build at Wake Forest?
DAVE CLAWSON: It’s been a really rewarding five years. But I don’t think that we’ve reached our peak. I think that you certainly go into it with a value system in terms of how you want the program run. You are learn to never deviate from your core values.

I think also think every school is a little different. Your recruiting footprint is different. The strength of the academic school are different. I think right now our staff, and myself personally, have a much better feel for exactly what’s school is, what we can attract, how that affects how we play offense, defense, our kicking game. Then it’s just to remain very disciplined.

We are still a developmental program. We feel we’re certainly recruiting better, but a lot of our success has come from redshirting. People talk about the transfer portal, how it’s ruining college football, and it’s awful; we had nine players this year that were fifth-year seniors that could have graduated and transferred anywhere in the country and been instantly eligible. All nine of those guys, Justin included, chose to return to Wake Forest and finish their career.

I think it’s very important to be consistent in your recruiting message, then making sure that you deliver all the things that you say you’re going to do during the process.

I don’t know if I’ve learned that, but I just think staying consistent and maintaining your value system with everything you do is critical to running a good program, especially at a high-character plays like Wake Forest.

Q. Just being in North Carolina, I’m not sure how much — what your interactions have been with Coach Satterfield. What are your impressions of him and what he might do at Louisville?
DAVE CLAWSON: Head coach’s favorite question, ask about another coach at another program (smiling).

I have great respect for him. I knew him when he was the offensive coordinator at Toledo and I was at Bowling Green. He did a great job at App. When we played Appalachian two years ago, his team is extremely well-coached, disciplined. Again, I certainly hold him in high regard, have followed his career for the last 10 years.

I’m sure he’ll do a good job there, hopefully not too good of a job because we have to play them every year. But I think Louisville is extremely fortunate to hire somebody of his character and qualifications.

Q. Wake Forest is a program that has won an ACC Championship, the most recent of any team in our state.
DAVE CLAWSON: Thanks for saying that.

Q. It’s the facts. Was there a cultural change that you needed to make once you got in, though?
DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, I think the word “culture” is so critical, and also at times gets overused.

For the most part we had good kids and good football players. I mean, players like Ryan Janvion and Cam Serigne, Tyler Hayworth, Marquel Lee, Brandon Chubb, were all good kids and football players that were recruited by Jim Grobe.

Certainly when you have had five consecutive losing seasons, that certainly does something to the morale of any program. Just sometimes new is different. We were I think very demanding and very specific with what we wanted, and the players that chose to stay with us became some of our best players and best leaders.

I think now the best programs are player-run. When you first come into a school, I think the coaches try to put in their philosophies, their standards, their culture. But then after a while, either the players grab ahold of that and continue it or it doesn’t quite catch on and those programs fizzle out.

In order for us to keep improving and to keep being the program that we want to be and want to become, it needs to become more and more player-led. That becomes easier the longer we’re there.

One of my really hard decisions this year is who do I bring to this event. Cade and Justin are great representatives, but I have 10 other players that would get up here and do a great job. That’s a good problem. I think in the past, it was very easy who to pick because there might only be two or three players that could do this type of job. Now we’ve got 10 or 15 of them that I’d be proud having here to represent our program.

Q. There’s some really explosive offenses in this league with some catchy names. How would you describe the Wake Forest offense? What part does tempo play in what you want to achieve philosophically? What are the teams that are play as fast as you? Does anybody?
DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, I mean, Syracuse certain plays very fast. To me, it’s not about how fast we go, it’s the threat of the ability to go fast. That’s more important than how many plays you run or how quickly the next play — how quickly you’re snapping the football.

It’s the threat of being able to play fast which forces the defense to line up, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for the offense and the quarterback and the decision makers.

There’s a fine line with that. Last year we played really fast. As we got injuries on defense, we were playing too many snaps, we purposely and very intentionally slowed down at the end of the year. When we played NC State, we were banged up on defense, Jamie Newman was making his first start, we didn’t play as fast.

But because on film we had played so fast consistently, there was always the threat of playing fast. I think that’s more important than necessarily always going a hundred miles an hour. So tempo is very important in terms of what we do, but it’s the ability to change tempo and not always play at the same pace that I think is most difficult to defend.

Q. You made a defensive change during the season last season. What can you say about Coach Lyle as the defensive coordinator, what you’ve seen from him and his leadership.
DAVE CLAWSON: Well, decisions like that are never easy to make. Sometimes things just aren’t working. I felt last year, if we just stayed down that path, in some ways we’d be giving up on the season. I didn’t think that was fair to anybody in our program.

Coach Hemphill and Coach Cohen took over a very difficult situation. I think giving the timing of it, that’s never ideal. They did a really good job. We improved, got better, became more fundamentally sound. We schematically came up with answers we maybe didn’t have before.

I’m excited to see what we’re going to do with the whole off-season, a whole spring, a whole summer camp to implement our plan. I think our depth is good. We need some young guys to step up. You need to stay healthy. But I think every coach would get up there and say that.

I expect us to be better. Improving statistically, that’s a low bar. I expect us to be a lot better. I think our players have bought in, believe what we’re doing, and that’s three-quarters of the battle.

Q. Can you discuss your wide receiver Sage Surratt, why he’s had so much success early on. How do you envision him developing this season?
DAVE CLAWSON: Well, Sage is a North Carolina player. I believe he was the first player to ever be the North Carolina State Player of the Year in football and basketball.

Sage has all those intangible qualities that we love in a Wake Forest football player: he’s smart, humble, he has a great work ethic. Last year he had some success. There were games, Tulane, NC State, that he made a big impact. There were other games that maybe his impact wasn’t what we would want.

I think what we’re looking forward to in year two with him is just consistently playing at that high level that he would know he’s capable of. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s a guy that has become I think obsessed with becoming a great football player. He’s smart. He’s a high-character guy.

We’re excited he’s ours. I think if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to have a real breakout season for us.

Q. About the quarterback situation, at this event last year we knew Sam and Jamie, one of them was going to be the starter. We didn’t know too much about how they would react in that role. Now through circumstances you’ve soon how both of them would react in that role. How much does that factor in going into another battle between the two of them this year?
DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, a year ago we were here, our four-year starter graduated, our starter just got suspended. I would certainly rather be in this position than the position a year ago.

I think the good thing is we have two quarterbacks who have proven hey can win games in the ACC, win games at Wake Forest. It’s a good problem. It’s competitive. I don’t know who our starting left guard is going to be. I don’t know who our third linebacker is going to be. Right now I don’t know who our starting quarterback is going to be.

But I have great confidence in both of them. Historically, we have not gotten through a season there healthy at the quarterback position. So as much as I’m worried about who the starter is, I’m also concerned with who’s going to be our third, who is our fourth. We have to make sure we’re continuing to develop the position.

But I feel good about both of them. It will play out in August.

Q. Cade talked about the ferocity by which the quarterback puts the ball into his basket. I would qualify that as one of the little things. How much of the little things mattered as you’ve been building this program?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think, first of all, Cade is very smart. That’s his very subtle way. When a running back says one of the quarterback’s great strengths is the ability to hand the football off, he’s advocating for himself there in running the ball.

But the little things add up. One of the reasons that we’ve had success is that we’ve had the ability to win a lot of close football games. I think it’s the accumulation of doing a lot of little things right consistently that gives you that winning edge that we’re always going to have to have at Wake Forest.

Fortunately we have players and a coaching staff that buy into that. We’re going to continue to do things that way. I think that will continue to be the key to our success.

THE MODERATOR: Wake Forest, good luck this year.

DAVE CLAWSON: Okay, thank you all so much.

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