Odds of long-term employment are not good when you are signed by an NFL team one week before the roster has to be trimmed from 90 to 53 players. It takes that long to learn everyone’s name, much less the playbook. But if anyone can beat those odds, it’s John Wolford. Nothing has ever come easy.
A record-setting quarterback at Wake Forest last season, Wolford went through his second practice with the Jets on Monday, two days after he had gotten calls from his agent and then the Jets, who told him to hop on a plane. A contract was waiting.
On hold is a standing job offer with Barclays on Wall Street and a future career in finance paved by his academic excellence. Wolford’s concern now is that he has less than one week to impress the Jets enough to earn a spot at least on the practice squad and keep alive his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I’m just excited,” he said Monday. “I’m trying to prepare and get ready. The most important thing is I’m all in for football right now. I have to make sure I’m doing what I need to get done to be prepared for a shot like this. That’s been my plan.”
You wonder why Wolford wasn’t in training camp all along, especially during the opening week when Sam Darnold was a contract holdout and Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater were sharing all the reps. Better late than never as far as Wolford is concerned.
Wolford has been an underdog before. His size has worked against him. He’s 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and not named Baker Mayfield. But his stats are impressive.
While his older brother Bobby was a fullback at Boston College, Wolford became a four-year starter at Wake Forest. He passed for 8,794 career yards and 59 touchdowns, including a monster senior year when he threw for 3,192 yards and a school record 29 touchdowns against six interceptions. Wolford also rushed for 19 more touchdowns as Wake Forest improved from 3-9 his first two years to 7-6 his junior season and 8-5 as a senior.
“John was phenomenal,” said Steve Shutt, the associate athletic director for communications at Wake Forest. “Everybody knows he’s a great kid, a smart kid and would be a huge help in the quarterback room for any team that takes him. But they’re going to look at his 6-1, 200 pounds and think he can’t do it.”
Shutt said Wolford shouldn’t be underestimated. He was raised in Jacksonville, Fla., by his father Bob Wolford Sr., a physician, and played well enough in high school to pass Tim Tebow as Northeast Florida’s career leader in touchdown passes. The Jets invited him to the rookie tryout camp, but waited until now to take a second look.
“I wouldn’t bet against him,” Shutt said, “because I’ve seen him do it time and time again.”
Wolford plans to make the most of this opportunity. The Jets are flush with quarterbacks now with McCown, Bridgewater and Darnold all having good training camps. But the Jets could be exploring trade offers for Bridgewater and need some youth behind McCown.
It’s uncertain whether Wolford will get a chance to play in the Jets preseason finale Thursday. Regardless of how things work out, his plan is to chase his football dream as long as he is allowed.
“You’ve got to take things one day at a time,” he said. “I’ll have to see where I am a month from now or two months from now and what the market is for me. Then I’ll make the decision that’s best for me.”
For now it’s football over finance.
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