The Unsinkable John Wolford

I get knocked down, but I get up again.

You’re never going to keep me down.’’Chumbawamba release of 1997.

As a sportswriter, I was taught to never root for any team or any player that I covered.

But try as I might, I couldn’t help over these past three and a half seasons becoming a huge fan of John Wolford.

Of all the quarterbacks I saw play at Wake Forest, I know I never saw any of them pick themselves off the ground and keep playing football more often than Wolford. And that’s why it warmed the cockles of this old heart to see the game Wolford had in the Deacons’ euphoric 42-32 victory over dastardly Louisville today at BB&T Field.

So many people seem to be sleeping this season on Lamar Jackson, but as we saw today last season’s Heisman Trophy winner may still be the best quarterback in college football.

But on this day, when so much was riding on the outcome and the bad blood between the teams was still simmering, John Wolford was better.

It’s hard to play better than Wolford did while completing 28 of 34 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns. He should have had six touchdown passes, if not for Greg Dortch fumbling just before he crossed the goal line in the third quarter, so Wolford had to settle for just tying Riley Skinner’s school record for most in a game.

The yardage, meanwhile, ranked fifth all-time in school history, just behind the 478 yards Rusty LaRue accumulated against Georgia Tech in 1995 and just ahead of the 447 Jay Venuto piled up against South Carolina in 1980.

Not bad for a player who, even after starting 33 games over his first three seasons, entered preseason camp running second team behind Kendall Hinton.

Not bad for a player who was thrown into the fray as a first-year freshman, only to get sacked 101 times over those same three seasons.

Not bad, in fact, for anybody.

After watching the game on TV, I have to say I missed the victorious Wake post-game. I missed talking with Wolford after this one, though over all the times I picked his brain after a game it was never so much what he said that I found impressive as what he didn’t say.

He never complained about getting knocked down time and again while the offensive line matured in front of him. He never made excuses when he messed up and he always shared the credit when he did well.

Today, when talking to Dave Goren during the IMG Sports post-game, he couldn’t say enough nice things about the offensive line no matter how hard he tried.

He even said he forgave Dortch for losing grip of the ball at the goal line and costing him a school record, but of course it’s easy to give a break to a redshirt freshman who himself caught 10 passes for 167 yards and a school record four touchdowns.

And that’s why I made sure on the last practice I ever covered at Wake to find Wolford and tell him two things I wanted him to hear.

The first was to thank him for being as patient, understanding and decent as he always was all those many times I had to approach him after another tough  loss. So many times he was bruised and battered and heartsick.

The second was for him and his team to make me sorry that I retired before this season of all seasons.

Today, for the first time, I was sorry I retired before the season. But I’m getting ready to pop the top on an adult beverage and dish up another bowl of homemade chili, so I’ll get over that feeling really fast.

I hope the feeling John Wolford has right now lasts for a long, long time.

4 thoughts on “The Unsinkable John Wolford

  1. I just posted my story on Wolford. None of what he did against Louisville will be in that feature as deadline has passed, but he’s still a great story. My theme – perseverance is omnipotent. And doesn’t that just describe John, an understated, underrated hard hat kind of player. Nobody would have promoted that game as a battle of quarterbacks, but one surely did play better than the other that day! One overpaid his dues to enjoy that kind of outing. I hope it lasts a long time too!


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