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Defending ACC champ Wake Forest building on 2006 success


Saws buzzed and drills rattled at Wake Forest on Tuesday as work continued on the glitzy new Deacon Tower at Groves Stadium.

On the field, work continued on building the Demon Deacons into something more than a one-year wonder, a surprise team that somehow claimed the Atlantic Coast Conference title and sneaked into the Orange Bowl.

“It kind of happened at the same time, with last season and our program really coming on the rise,” quarterback Riley Skinner said during the team’s annual media day. “I guess it is kind of a metaphor and a coincidence that it all came together at the same time.”

Skinner and Wake Forest can only hope the seven-story, 123,000-square-foot tower of luxury boxes, club seats and a new press box rises as impressively as the Demon Deacons’ fortunes did during their charmed 2006 season, in which the preseason last-place pick in the ACC’s Atlantic Division wound up winning the league and reaching a Bowl Championship Series game.

The improbable championship helped legitimize the program-building philosophy coach Jim Grobe emphasized when he came to Winston-Salem in 2001 redshirting freshmen, developing them into solid players and patiently building a foundation for steady success.

“What we did last year probably helps us a little bit from a confidence perspective, but other than that, it probably makes our job a little tougher. … We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” Grobe said. “They realize we’re going to have to go back to work if we’re going to have a good season coming up.”

Things may have changed the most for Skinner, who as a redshirt freshman went from anonymous backup to the ACC’s rookie of the year. Skinner surely has come a long way from last year’s media day, when he wasn’t sure if he would even be No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ben Mauk.

“Last year, he was that scared little boy, and when he came in for his first snap, he was a little timid,” center Steve Justice said. “To being grown up and trying to run this offense, he kind of did that throughout the year and took hold of it towards the end of the year. He took it upon himself to really develop and be the leader.”

Skinner took over when Mauk was injured in the season opener against Syracuse and wound up passing for a school-record 2,053 yards while leading Wake Forest to a school-record 11 wins and its second ACC title and first since 1970.

“When it comes down to close situations, close games, being a lot more calm since we’ve been in that situation before that’s kind of the biggest thing I got from last year,” Skinner said.

The Demon Deacons hope to draw on their experience in winning the tight games last season five of their wins were by seven or fewer points, including a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. But they aren’t allowing themselves to dwell on their unexpected thrill ride to Miami.

“Ever since we’ve gotten up here for the summer, started training again, it’s been all about this year not last year,” Skinner said. “It was fun, enjoying it last year, but it’s over now.”

– Associated Press

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