How Sam Hartman’s absence affects Wake Forest, ACC in 2022

Following the news that Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman will be out indefinitely, how does his absence impact the whole college football landscape?

Wednesday morning dawned with the sad news that Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman would be out indefinitely with a non-football related medical condition. An outpouring of well-wishes across the football world speaks to Hartman’s impact on the game. But what does this indefinite absence mean for Hartman, for Wake Forest, for the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the entire 2022 college football season and beyond?

Sam Hartman; more than just a football player

At Wake Forest, Aug. 9 began just like any other day. Every college football playing school across the nation is at some point in their pre-season training camp, some well underway, some just beginning. For the Demon Deacons and their returning quarterback Hartman, the success of last season was behind them and the work to build into something more was underway.

However, the nation awoke to news on Wednesday that Hartman would be out indefinitely with what was described as a non-football related medical condition. Reportedly, the star QB sought medical assistance during Tuesday’s activities. Further tests uncovered an issue that required “medical intervention.” It was later reported that Hartman underwent “a medical procedure” on Tuesday night, with a period of rehabilitation to follow.

Upon the breaking news, the Wake Forest Football social media account posted a simple sentiment that encapsulates what Hartman means to this program.

“We’re behind you, 10” — in reference to the gold number 10 emblazoned upon the QBs distinctive black Demon Deacons jersey. An outpouring of social media support from teammates, peers, football media, and supporters followed.

Injuries happen in football. It’s the nature of the game. We’ve almost become desensitized to adversity when health setbacks come as a byproduct of the physicality that typifies football. Yet, here, with Hartman, there’s a feeling of something different. He didn’t get injured in the line of football duty. Perhaps, this feeling is fuelled by the lack of knowledge of his condition, with both program and player remaining discreet about the nature of his issue.

However, there’s something more to it than that. Here is a young man who has already overcome so much. Here is a young man that has suffered unimaginable loss. Yet, here is a young man who has done it often in the public eye, with his appearance in the Netflix documentary “QB1” lifting him from the football field into our front rooms and into our hearts. The outpouring of support is a testament to Hartman’s character and standing in the game, perhaps best summarized by the statement from Wake head coach Dave Clawson:

“Sam Hartman is the true embodiment of a leader and is one of the finest young men I have ever had the pleasure to coach. Sam was intensely focused on the betterment of his teammates throughout the entire offseason and helping our program continue to achieve great things on the field. Additionally, he is an incredible person in the community and in the classroom.”

Wake Forest loses their most valuable offensive asset

Hartman had already played a hand in helping the program achieve great things. Last season, he engineered the greatest season in Wake Forest history. Leading the Demon Deacons to an 11-3 record that included a trip to the ACC Championship Game and a Gator Bowl victory, a standout season from the then-fourth-year QB earned Wake their highest ever AP Poll ranking when they ascended to 10th in late October.

A career year saw Hartman throw for 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns while completing a career-high 59.8% of his passes. Additionally, the Wake Forest QB found the end zone 11 times with his legs while compiling 364 rushing yards. His 302 passing yards per game figured to be second behind Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong for returning quarterbacks ahead of the 2022 college football season.

Encouragingly, news broke later on Wednesday that Hartman is expected to return to the team during the season. However, the Demon Deacons go into the season without their starting quarterback and uncertainty as to when he’ll return. Within their first five games of the season, Wake Forest faces some of their tougher opponents. There’s a trip into SEC country (albeit against Vanderbilt). They host Clemson at Truist Field. The Deacs also go on the road to an FSU team that much is expected of this season.

They also face Army in early October in a repeat of the epic slugfest that elevated Hartman’s standing within college football and NFL Draft circles last fall. Without their impactful QB, that shootout could have had a very different ending. As a result, Wake’s season could potentially be already over before Hartman is ready to return to the field.

Once considered the second-favorite to win the ACC, Draftkings Sportsbook’s shift in odds reflects how impactful Hartman’s loss is to Wake Forest. The sportsbook is offering +5000 odds for the Demon Deacons to win the ACC, with only four teams (Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Duke, and Georgia Tech) given less chance of lifting the ACC Championship trophy in December.

The ACC has undoubtedly lost one of their greatest contenders, although if a depleted Wake team doesn’t take a win off of Clemson, it may actually help their chances of getting a team to the College Football Playoff. The same can be said for an NC State team that has earned early plaudits as a potential challenger in the conference. The Demon Deacons are set to travel to Raleigh on November 5. Hartman’s absence deprives us of a shootout between two great college football programs, quarterbacks, and NFL Draft prospects.

Mitch Griffis: what to expect from Hartman’s understudy

While reiterating that Hartman will return at some point this season, Wake Forest head coach Clawson gave an insight into the quarterback situation ahead of the season opener against the Virginia Military Institute on September 1. While the 6’2″, 190 pounds Michael Kern will compete during training camp and into the season, there is a clear succession.

“Mitch Griffis is QB1.”

But who is Mitch Griffis, and what can we expect from the Wake Forest quarterback thrust into an unenviable situation? For most people outside of Winston-Salem, Griffis is an unknown. Even for those fans inside Truist Field, he might be a little of an unknown, although he is the last Wake Forest QB not named Sam Hartman to throw a touchdown for the Demon Deacons. He’ll almost certainly be the next, adding to his one collegiate score against Clemson in 2020.

While his college numbers in relief of Hartman over the past two seasons have been mediocre, Griffis was a highly productive high school quarterback and three-star recruit in the 2020 quarterback class. A testament to his intelligence, he attracted college offers from Harvard and Howard. Meanwhile, his football ability gained attention with Louisville, North Carolina, and Vanderbilt battling for his commitment. Ironically, he’ll likely suit up against all three depending upon Hartman’s timeline to return.

Football is in the Griffis family blood. His father is the head coach at Broad Run High School. The new Wake Forest QB1 owns every single passing and total offense record for the Spartans, having won more games than any other quarterback in Broad Run history. As we know, “quarterback wins” isn’t a real statistic. Yet, it highlights that Griffis has the capability and — more importantly — ability, to lead a team to victory.

Tabbed a “dual-threat” QB coming out of Broad Run, Griffis has an athletic profile similar to former Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson, with his high school testing times very similar to Thompson’s 2022 NFL Combine performance. On his high school tape, he’s clearly adept at creating with his legs, while operating an offense with some elements of run-pass option that is critical to being able to run Wake’s elongated mesh system.

Griffis also showed the ability to get the ball out with a quick release, while being able to stand in the pocket and make a play in the face of pressure. Furthermore, there were examples of him being able to climb the pocket to make a throw, something that was missing from Hartman’s scouting report when he was considered a potential 2022 NFL Draft prospect. His touchdown pass against Clemson, albeit in garbage time of a heavy defeat, demonstrated his ability to throw accurately on the run while under pressure.

Hartman’s absence has knock-on impact throughout college football

While there’s reason for some optimism about Griffis and his potential, the inescapable truth is that he’s not Hartman. The loss of their starting quarterback, and leader, is set to have a profound impact on a program with high expectations coming into the year. Those expectations will now have to be tempered, and the knock-on impact will be felt throughout college football.

We’ve already discussed how Hartman’s absence will impact the ACC and potentially the College Football Playoff. For the likes of wide receivers A.T. Perry and Donovan Greene, there is the potential for it to impact their NFL Draft stock. The 2023 NFL Draft quarterback class itself may be impacted. While Hartman has always maintained that 2022 would be his final year, he is still eligible for 2023 and could opt to return, particularly if caution keeps him away from the field all year.

If Hartman was to return for another year with Wake Forest, it has a profound impact on the college football quarterback landscape. That’s another starting quarterback role filled that was expected to be vacant. It impacts recruiting, the transfer portal, and the roster construction of not just the Demon Deacons but potentially other college football programs.

Right now, however, that is all conjecture. Right now, that is, in many respects, irrelevant. While it’s our job to report on and analyze college football and the NFL Draft — to discuss and imagine the possibilities and permeations — right now, it’s our human nature to wish the Wake Forest QB Hartman a speedy recovery. We excitedly await his return to the college football field, whenever that may, whatever that landscape may look like.

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