Wake O-lineman transfers as opportunities for playing time diminish


Wake Forest announced this week that T.J. Haney, a once-heralded offensive line recruit, is leaving the football program. Haney is the second player this fall to announce he’s leaving the team, following linebacker Zack Wary (injury). The Deacons also announced that defensive lineman Zeek Rodney will miss the season (leave of absence).

Haney is a redshirt freshman, and after several weeks of fall practice, it became apparent that he needed to look elsewhere if he wanted playing time. The Deacons have only two seniors on their line, and Haney sits behind four sophomores and two members of his own class: Nathan Gilliam and Jake Benzinger.

As the first recruit of coach Dave Clawson’s first full class in 2015, Haney signaled a bright future. He was a desirable recruit — Wake beat out Vanderbilt, San Diego State and others — at the main position Clawson needed to rebuild. At 6-6, 315 pounds, Haney was big but also mobile. Per 247Sports’ composite rankings, he was the No. 117 tackle in his class.

But it’s another reminder that recruiting rankings are just educated guesses. They can’t see how a player will adapt to college life, his work ethic, his weight-room desire or other intangibles. Haney found himself behind classmate Benzinger, a virtual unknown on the recruiting trail. Clawson repeatedly praised Benzinger this offseason.

Haney’s departure is also an indication that the team’s is getting solid play from incoming freshmen on the line: Taleni Suhren, Je’Vionte’ Nash and Tyler Watson.

Had he stayed, Haney would’ve had a chance to be part of the eight most experienced linemen next season. But adding in the freshmen changed his view of future playing time: Suhren is the top-ranked offensive lineman ever to sign with Wake Forest, ranking No. 57 nationally at tackle (according to 247Sports’ composite rankings) and choosing the Deacons over a slew of ACC schools, West Virginia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and others. He’s likely to jump right into the starting lineup.

After Watson committed, the Deacons had to outlast offers from Indiana, Syracuse and Maryland before signing day.

Clawson and the Deacons haven’t done much for the offensive line in the mostly filled class of 2017. That signifies some confidence in the 2016 class. The only O-line prospect to commit so far is Allan Rappleyea, ranked as the No. 153 tackle in 247Sports’ composite rankings. His other offers were mostly from Ivy League schools.

Haney’s washout at Wake Forest hurts at a particularly important position, but — at least for now — it appears that Clawson has recruited well enough to withstand it.