- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Wake Forest stood one win away from bowl eligibility last November but turned in a nightmare finish, losing three straight to end the year.
The truth is, the season began unraveling well before then. Injuries cost the Deacs heavily, and multiple suspensions embarrassed coach Jim Grobe, who publicly apologized for the incidents.
Thrown into the mix were negative attitudes that permeated the program, a toxic mix that ended up spilling over once the year ended. Players vented their frustrations to the media. Some former players questioned whether Grobe was the right man for the job.
But the page has turned to a new year, and with that has come new attitudes and new expectations. Wake Forest returns 16 starters and just about all of its key contributors from a year ago. The question now is whether so many returning starters off a dysfunctional team can find a way to function together.
"The biggest lesson I probably learned from last year is just the importance of staying positive and making sure there’s not any negativity within the team," Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price said, "because as soon as that negativity creeps in, it’s like a cancer and it’s easy for everybody to become negative. It hurts the team and affects the outcome on Saturdays."
Did that happen last season?
"At times we struggled with that," Price said.
How did he feel about players venting publicly about Grobe and the final outcome of the season?
"At the end of the day, guys were just frustrated with the outcome of the season for a number of reasons," Price said. "What we had was coaches blaming players and players blaming coaches, and at the end of the day, we’re all at fault. What happened requires us to all come together to do some self-evaluation. That’s what we’re doing right now in the offseason.
"I’m excited about where we’re headed. I think this is a close group of guys, and we’ve built a solid relationship with the coaching staff. I really do believe it will be a much different season, and I’m really excited to see how turns out."
Price returns his No. 1 target, Michael Campanaro, one of the top receivers in the ACC. The young offensive line, decimated by injuries last season, will be better and much more experienced. Leading rusher Josh Harris is back, and so are leading tackler Justin Jackson, noseguard Nikita Whitlock and cornerback Merrill "Bud" Noel, just to name a few.
With so many experienced returning starters, expectations will grow. Price, for one, is embracing them.
"I’m very optimistic about this upcoming season," Price said. "We have an unbelievable amount of talent on offense and defense. I really do believe this team will be back in a bowl next year and I think we can have seven-plus wins. I’m excited and I think this is going to be a fun offseason to get working with these guys and start building momentum to carry into the season."
The senior class, Price says, "Since we got here as freshmen, we’ve been talking about how this senior season is going to be our year to make an impression and leave our legacy here so we’ve come together as a group of seniors and said, 'Let’s take advantage of this opportunity we have in front of us.'"
So far, he has noticed results.
"There already is a different energy within the team and the entire program," Price said. "It’s for the better. Everybody is really committed and really ready to create some change and leave an impact."
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3dJared Shanker and Andrea Adelson