Wolford wins starting QB job for Arizona team in new football league
When John Wolford was drafted by the Arizona Hotshots of the upstart Alliance of American Football in November, his former Wake Forest teammate Ryan Anderson said he was “trying to retweet all the stuff about John.”
Anderson also was amused but not surprised when he saw a quote from Wolford earlier in football season, in which Wolford said “they’d have to make me hang my cleats up.”
“That guy — he’s just obsessed with football so much. … John’s going to have to — he’s going to be playing in stuff like that for the next 20 years if they don’t cut him,” Anderson said. “He’s not the guy that’s only going to play that stuff for a year and then be like, ‘All right, I’m going to move on.’”
And now it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wolford will start Sunday night’s opener after winning a training camp battle.
“I swear to God, it’s like a repeating cycle,” Wolford said by phone earlier this week. “The biggest thing that you learn in camp is being able to be consistent. Just to go out every day and do the right thing every single time, and that’s how you win jobs. So, I have some experience in that arena.”
Wolford beat out former Oklahoma and Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight to earn the starting nod for Arizona, which plays host to the Salt Lake Stallions at 8 on Sunday night. The game can be seen on NFL Network, part of a showcasing for the brand-new league.
The unsurprising part of Wolford winning a quarterback competition is that he did it before every season with the Deacons. In Coach Dave Clawson’s first season at Wake Forest, Wolford won the job and became the first true freshman in school history to start all 12 games in a season.
Entering his last three seasons, Wolford again won quarterback battles to be the Deacons’ starter.
“What I’ve learned is what it takes, that constant focus. I learned that at Wake,” Wolford said. “And in my freshman and sophomore years, if you looked at my camps, and even my junior year, I wasn’t consistent throughout the entire camp.
“I played well my junior year toward the end, but usually there’s a translation to how you do in camp and how you do during the season.”
That leads to his senior year, when Wolford excelled throughout camp and put together one of the single-best seasons ever by a Deacons quarterback. Wolford’s 3,192 passing yards and 29 touchdowns are both single-season records at Wake Forest, and the cherry on top was garnering Belk Bowl MVP honors after throwing for 400 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 68 yards.
Since then, Wolford went through minicamp and a brief training camp stint with the New York Jets. The 6-1, 200-pounder seemed poised for a spot on the team’s practice squad before he was released after the final preseason game.
The AAF is a means for Wolford to get closer to earning another shot at an NFL roster spot. The first time Wolford was contacted about playing in the AAF was in September, but he said he was hesitant to commit because NFL teams sign players to futures contracts in December. So there was, as Wolford said, a constant assessment of risk-reward.
Since committing to the league, he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.
“I went in open-minded. You can tell it’s very well-run. You look at the guys kind of leading it, Bill Polian on the football side, and then (Charlie) Ebersole is the CEO, and he’s done a great job,” Wolford said. “Between the two of them — in essence, it’s a startup. And there are some kinks here and there, but it has exceeded my expectations for how well it’s run.
“And then the coaches are, I mean, you look at the plethora of coaches and they’re all highly regarded, NFL-experienced and it’s good football. There are talented guys out here. I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
The coach of the Hotshots is Rick Neuheisal, while the offensive coordinator is Hugh Freeze.