Who in the bleep is Johnny Wolford, and what blip on the football radar is he from? I’ll tell you who and where.
On Sept. 15, 2010, I received a Facebook personal message from some young teenager in Jacksonville, Fla. named John Wolford. And there’s no way in 2010 either of us would think NFL odds and a franchise’s postseason hopes would hinge on his talents 10 years later.
He was embarking on a varsity career at Bishop Kenny High School … which wasn’t exactly a football powerhouse at the time. He wanted us, at The Sporting News, to check out his tape from the first few games, he just wanted to be known.
John wasn’t a “pushy” marketer of his highlights, he just wanted people to be aware. Just a teenager, he was hoping maybe the University of Florida would take notice. By the time he was done playing for Bishop Kenny, he had broken Florida high school records, but he told me he was frustrated he couldn’t get a quick look from the Gators or several other in-state powerhouses.
As time went on in the early part of the past decade, he became more confident in himself (it was obvious in our communications/conversations). At one point, our editors were curious if he’d be a good candidate to do something for The Sporting News where he’d describe the craziness of recruiting and the visits and the camp circuit. Sort of a diary, if you will. He and his parents obliged and he did a great job describing the headaches, the ups, and downs. It was a great read.
When it came time for national signing day, even his record-breaking numbers — on the level of nearby sensation Tim Tebow (who Wolford looked up to) — weren’t attracting the typical “big boys” of college football.
The Gators’ Will Muschamp was struggling to keep his head above water, employment-wise, and the program had recently added a commitment from a fellow QB talent named Will Grier, and he looked like he’d be the future of the program.
The hoped-for call from Gainesville never materialized for Wolford.
Wolford committed to East Carolina, but as usual, late in the game — options arose. Penn State and Wake Forest came into the recruiting game, and John expressed his delight in messages back to me in late 2013.
John put up incredible numbers in his prep career and I recognized him on the 2013 PARADE All-American team (my other contract). John also switched his commitment to the ACC’s Wake Forest, which would be hard to argue with. By fall? He was starting for the Demon Deacons, and my last exchange with John came after he played against Clemson that fall of 2014.
He ended up starting all 12 games that fall of 2014, the first player in school history to do that. He threw for 2,037 yards and 12 TDs and by the end of his Wake Forest career, he’d started four straight season openers and threw for 8,794 yards and 59 TDs, while also rushing for 1,120 yards and 19 TDs.
John wasn’t drafted in 2018, but he was signed by the New York Jets as a free agent shortly after the draft. Perhaps the biggest reason he is getting this big chance this week is because of his time in the short-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF) in Spring 2019, when he threw for 1,617 yards and 14 TDs in eight games for the Arizona Hotshots before the league suspended operations.
The Rams scooped him up shortly afterward and he’s been with the club ever since. Now, Wolford could have a big influence on the NFL betting lines this weekend.
It has been a long journey for Wolford, who went from hoping anybody at all would take notice, to hoping college coaches would take notice, to hoping pro programs would give him just one shot. He’s getting that shot because starter Jared Goff broke his thumb. To add to it, offensive weapons like Cooper Kupp (COVID-19) and Darrell Henderson (IR) won’t be available.
A legit Cardinals team stands in the way, and the best-case scenario is the Rams could hit the No. 5 spot but on the flip side? They may not make the playoffs at all.
Wolford hasn’t always had the easy road. What will he do this time?
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Brian McLaughlin is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of BMac and Herd’s FCS Podcast. He has written for The Sporting News, headed up the PARADE Magazine High School All American teams, covered the FCS for HERO Sports, and wrote for so many newspapers he lost count. Follow BMac on Twitter @BrianMacWriter.