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Football Recruiting Report
Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Another Florida QB plots a course to ECU

Bishop Kenny star Wolford brings sterling credentials

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Fifteen minutes was all it took for Mark Thorson to recognize there was something special about John Wolford.

Wolford was just a freshman, trying out for Thorson's varsity football squad at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, FL, in the fall of 2010. He was well known to Thorson because his older brother, Bobby, was already playing linebacker for the Crusaders and because the younger Wolford had starred in the area Pop Warner youth league.

"His physical abilities were evident,'' Thorson said. "He was already a solidly built kid and he ran well. His throwing mechanics were real polished.

"But what was maybe surprising for a freshman was his poise and leadership skills. In the first 15 minutes in the huddle, we knew he was on top of it and was capable of leading our team.''

So, despite the fact two seniors were trying out along with Wolford, Thorson decided to go with the freshman as the starting quarterback. He hasn't regretted the decision a single second since.

Wolford has quarterbacked the Crusaders to a 29-10 record, three straight state playoff appearances and broken a record previously held by Tim Tebow in just over three varsity seasons. With that kind of resume, it's no wonder East Carolina offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley dropped by Bishop Kenny last May to watch Wolford work during spring practice.

Riley apparently liked what he saw because East Carolina followed his visit with a scholarship offer. Following visits to ECU's campus in June and for the Virginia Tech game on September 14, Wolford decided to accept the offer on Sept. 19 and continue a program trend of drawing quarterback talent out of the Sunshine State.

The Pirates beat out the likes of Air Force, Akron, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Harvard, Idaho, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Toledo and Western Michigan for Wolford's services.

"I went up there in June and kind of sat on it (decision) for a while,'' Wolford said. "I went up there and saw the Virginia Tech game and the atmosphere was awesome. But choosing East Carolina wasn't just about going to the game. It was about the whole visit up there. I met with some of the academic staff. I really liked the campus life. I liked their offensive style. I loved Coach Riley and (head) Coach (Ruffin) McNeill.

"So it wasn't just about one thing. It was the whole package.''

Wolford will join Cape Coral, FL, product and current true freshman quarterback Kurt Benkert at ECU in the fall of 2014. They'll be trying to live up to some high standards set by previous Floridians in Greenville.

Four of the top 10 career passing yardage leaders in ECU history all hailed from Florida. They are:

JAMES PINKNEY (2003-2006), Delray Beach | Pinkney's 8,173 career yards are second to only David Garrard's 9,029 on the school list. He's also No. 2 in completions (697) and is fourth in touchdowns (46).

DOMINIQUE DAVIS (2010-2011) Lakeland | In just two seasons, Davis rose to fourth on the all-time passing yardage list (7,192) and to the top spots in completions (727) and touchdown passes (62).

JEFF BLAKE (1989-91) Sanford | The quarterback who will forever be known for orchestrating ECU's greatest win ever in the 1992 Peach Bowl against N.C. State ranks sixth in all-time passing yardage (5,133) and completions (360), and fifth in touchdown throws (43).

TRAVIS HUNTER (1986-89) Winter Park | Hunter is seventh in all-time passing yardage (3,928), eighth in completions (280) and seventh in touchdown throws (32).

Wolford knows a thing or two about putting up record-breaking statistics. A five-touchdown pass performance in the second game of the 2013 season a 45-18 win against Wolfson gave Wolford 96 career touchdown throws. The total surpassed Tebow's previous Northeast Florida record of 95 set between 2003 and 2005 at Nease High School.

It was during his first years playing organized football that Wolford made the drive over to Nease High to watch Tebow played.

"Nease is about a 20- or 30-minute drive from our school,'' Wolford said. "He was a tremendous high school player, but I don't think as a fifth- or sixth-grader I really appreciate how good he was until I was much older.

"It's an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Tebow, who is a class act and so loved in Jacksonville.''

Hearing his name mentioned with great players isn't new for Wolford. His older brother, Bobby, is now the starting fullback at Boston College and his uncle Will played at Vanderbilt and was a three-time All-Pro offensive lineman in 13 NFL seasons.

Wolford kicked off his football career playing tackle at the age of 5 and was a quarterback from the very beginning.

By the time he reached Bishop Kenny, Wolford was a confident player. But even he was surprised to actually win a starting job on varsity as a freshman.

"I had come out at spring practice when I was still in the eighth grade, and I trained with the varsity during summer workouts,'' Wolford said. "But coming into preseason camp I didn't know (if he would start). It was a goal of mine. But there were two seniors guys there, too, and we all worked hard.

"But I give Coach Thorson and Coach (Tim) Krause (offensive coordinator) credit. It took some courage to start a freshman.''

Thorson said a week-and-a-half into preseason practice he knew Wolford would be his starter. And Wolford certainly got his Bishop Kenny career off to an auspicious start when he tossed a 70-yard touchdown pass on his first high school attempt in the opener against Orange Park.

Wolford would go on to complete 125 of 188 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions as a freshman. He also added 669 yards and eight touchdowns rushing on 105 attempts.

"I've never seen anybody close to that kind of poise and so ready to take on that task at that age,'' Thorson said. "By the fourth game he was directing game-winning drives. He led an 80-yard drive with a last-second touchdown throw to win the game. That's when we knew he was special.''

Wolford followed up by completing 152 of 241 passes for 2,669 yards and 35 touchdowns as a sophomore (only three interceptions). He also rushed for 511 yards and eight scores on 71 carries. As a junior in 2012, he completed 219 of 342 passes for 2,973 yard and 36 touchdowns (eight interceptions), along with 655 yards and five scores rushing on 104 attempts.

The Crusaders are off to a 2-0 start this season as Wolford has completed 44 of 70 passes for 708 yards and nine touchdowns, while also rushing for 197 more yards. During a 47-43 opening victory against Bartram Trail, Wolford led Bishop Kenny from its own 35-yard line with two big runs into the opposition's territory. He then tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to provide the game-winning points.

Wolford wound up with 407 yards passing and 135 rushing against Bartram Trail.

When asked to describe his strengths as a quarterback, Wolford said, "It's not just one thing I do, it's a lot of things.

"First, I'm going to be one of the hardest workers you'll ever find. I also do all I can before a game to prepare. Most games are won or lost before the ball is even snapped. That's something I take pride in, knowing what the defense is going to do. I will always be mentally into the game.

"I'm physical and I can run the ball. But more importantly, I have a strong and accurate arm. I can make all the throws on target and on time. I don't mean to sound cocky, but I have confidence in my abilities.''

Although current ECU starter Shane Carden will be a senior and Benkert likely a redshirt freshman when Wolford arrives on campus in the fall of 2014, he still expects to contend for playing time for the Pirates.

"I'm confident in my ability to compete,'' Wolford said. "I know those guys are talented, too. There would be competition anywhere I went at the college level, so that's to be expected.''

E-mail Sammy Batten

PAGE UPDATED 09/26/13 09:57 AM.

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