Clawson, Barri ready for spring football

The Demon Deacons are making their way back onto the field and into the weight room

Sam Hartman returns to the practice field for spring football.

Sam Hartman returns to the practice field for spring football.

Will Zimmerman, Online Managing Editor

Though the team won’t be taking the field for games that count for almost half a year, the Demon Deacons are already preparing for the 2021 football season. With spring practices beginning at the end of last week, players and coaches alike are returning with a sense of renewed optimism and an eye trained towards how the trials that accompanied the team’s final few games of last season including the 42-28 loss to Wisconsin in the Duke Mayo Bowl can be built upon as the team looks to come back stronger and fiercer in 2021.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Head Coach Dave Clawson said at a press conference following practice number one last Friday. “I did not feel a year ago we were as physical as we have typically been during our ‘good seasons.’ I think that showed up on film and I think that showed up late in the season … Now we go to the next phase of our preparation: spring football.”

Bolstering the physicality by building strength amongst the players falls on the shoulders of Chad Barri, who was recently promoted to the position of director of sports performance following the departure of Brandon Hourigan. Barri who served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the past seven years — was the logical replacement; he has worked alongside Clawson dating back to their days with the Bowling Green State University football team.

“Every move with [Barri] has been a no-brainer,” Clawson said. “There was angst when Hourigan left, but it disappeared as soon as we hired Barri. He’s been ready for a couple years … I’ve seen his development [and] I know he’s ready to be a head strength coach.”

Given that players are training with Barri in the weight room for 90 minutes, four times a week, it’s vital that a level of trust exists between the players and coach. Any lack in confidence regarding Barri’s instruction and regimen would equate to valuable time lost. Such has been of no concern to Clawson, who called the changeover from Hourigan to Barri “seamless.”

Barri concurs, crediting the ease of the transition to his long-standing relationship with Hourigan, whom he calls a mentor.

“Working under Coach Hourigan for seven years put me in a position to learn and progress,” Barri said. “[Now I’m] in a position to take over the reins and hit the ground running … This is what I’ve been working for, so I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

One of the most challenging aspects of Barri’s job will be keeping the Demon Deacons healthy throughout the entirety of the season. Injuries to key players, which plagued the team down the stretch last year, have played a significant role in curtailing Wake Forest’s ability to achieve sustained success over the course of the last three seasons.

“It’s a critical issue in our program,” Clawson said. “We have to figure out a way to stay healthy and maintain our depth if we’re ever going to take the next step as a program … It’s been a source of frustration for our players, our staff and our fanbase, and something we have to invest resources in [because] it has been the difference between us having eight-win seasons and 10-win seasons.”

Barri called preventing injuries a “collaborative effort.”

“We’re trying to put them in a [good]position from an injury reduction and prevention standpoint,” he said. “That [means] working hand-in-hand with sports medicine and nutrition. [With] everything we do, [the end goal] is to put the players in a better position on the field.”

Also weighing heavily on Clawson’s mind is the tall task of replacing several mainstays from last year’s roster. The team will bring back nine seniors in the fall, but gaps remain, noticeably at the running back, wide receiver and defensive line positions.

Certainly, no void looms as large as the one left by Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham, a likely first-round pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. The 6’ 5” edge rusher recorded five sacks in his first five games last season and finished with 28 total tackles in seven games played. Across four seasons with the Demon Deacons, he totaled 19.5 sacks, 35.5 tackles for a loss and 7 forced fumbles.

Replacing Boogie’s ability to get behind the line and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks will certainly be a challenge, but his departure opens the door for younger players to take up larger roles, both on the gridiron and in the locker room.

“We’ve got a lot of good depth,” Clawson said. “We’ll be able to give a lot of guys reps and that will encourage competition. Today is the day that competition starts.”

For quarterback Sam Hartman, the day couldn’t have come soon enough.

“Personally, I’m just excited to get back on the field, excited to be around the guys,” he said. “There’s a lot of hope for this year to be something really special. It all starts here.”