When freshman John Wolford showed up at Wake Forest in May for the first semester of summer school, he came to play.
Coach Dave Clawson intends to give him that opportunity.
“John Wolford is going to be our starting quarterback,” Clawson said after Monday’s practice. “We made that decision (Monday) after watching the tape of (Sunday’s) scrimmage.
“Not just last night in the scrimmage, but consistently through camp, he has executed the offense at the highest level. And I think he gives us our best opportunity to win football games.”
Wolford, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla., emerged from a four-way battle with redshirt junior Kevin Sousa, redshirt sophomore Tyler Cameron and freshman Travis Smith. Barring an injury or change of heart by Clawson, Wolford will be the first quarterback in 40 seasons to start his first game at Wake Forest when the Deacons open at Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 28.
The last was Mike McGlamry in a 33-15 loss to N.C. State on Sept. 7, 1974.
Wolford will be replacing Tanner Price, a four-year starter. Price was a reserve the first two games of his freshman season. He started the third game of the 2010 season after Ted Stachitas was sidelined by an injured hand.
Clawson, in his first season at Wake Forest, said the decision was based solely on the performances in preseason camp, and not on any desire to build for the future. Clawson said after Sunday’s scrimmage he plans to redshirt Smith so that he and Wolford won’t remain in the same eligibility class.
“I’ve said this before – we’ll try to redshirt players, but if a freshman gives us the best chance to win, we’re going to play them,” Clawson said. “It is not fair to the juniors and seniors in the program to make a decision based on what’s best five years from now.
“We believe he gives us the best chance to win, so we’re now preparing him as our starting quarterback.”
Clawson said Sunday he hoped to name a quarterback as soon as possible, to begin building a better rhythm, timing and continuity in his multiple offense. He was disappointed by the 13 penalties called against the offense in the two-hour scrimmage, which he speculated might have been at least partly the result of giving Wolford, Cameron and Sousa a similar number of plays.
“We’ve got to get him reps with the first offense,” Clawson said of Wolford. “We’ve got to get him reps with the first receivers.
“There’s certainly a timing in the way the offense kind of operates. I think when you have multiple quarterbacks it hurts that process, and we need to start loading him with reps and make sure he’s prepared to go in two and a half weeks.”
Wolford had a celebrated career at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, culminating in being named an honorable mention to the Parade All-America team. He was named first-team All-State in Florida’s Class 5A after breaking Tim Tebow’s state record with 126 touchdown passes.
In his final high school game, Wolford threw for seven touchdowns and rushed for three in a 74-73 loss to Clay High School of Green Cove Springs in the regional semifinals.
Cameron and Sousa competed for the inside track at quarterback during spring practices. When neither distinguished himself, Clawson threw the competition wide open to include Wolford and Smith.
It was apparent from the first days of practice that Wolford had an uncommon level of maturity and confidence for a freshman.
“You always prefer to have experience at that position and you always prefer to have someone who’s had snaps in games and played a lot of football,” Clawson said. “But we were going to be starting a new quarterback no matter who we picked. We graduated a four-year starter.
“Again, as I said throughout the spring, it was going to be an open competition and when we felt when things started to separate we’d make a decision. We really feel, 10 practices into this, it has separated.”