John Wolford has more on his plate than most. The 18-year-old true freshman is tasked with leading an ACC team in its first year of a new regime, a team that is replacing its all-time leading pass-catcher, among many other key pieces who graduated this past year.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson designated Wolford as the starting quarterback 10 practices into fall camp. Clawson has said repeatedly that he will play the guys he feels gives his team the best chance to win, and that unnecessary redshirts are not fair to the upperclassmen who have already given so much to the program.
Through three games, Wolford has experienced more than most. He has won a game. He has lost two. He has completed better than 56 percent of his passes, for 645 yards. He has thrown four touchdowns passes and has been picked off six times. He has done this without any real threat of a ground game to take pressure off him, as the Demon Deacons rank 124th nationally in rushing yards per game (22.67) and yards per rush (0.78). Likewise, Wolford has taken a beating, getting sacked 14 times, more than any other quarterback in the country.
"When we have given him time, he's proven to be very accurate," Clawson said. "I think he's very tough. He has taken quite a bit of hits; it has not impacted his fundamentals a lot. I think he still hangs in the pocket. He still keeps his eyes downfield. He has certainly shown the ability to bide time and make some plays with his feet."
Clawson sees room for improvement, of course. Wake surrendered 21 points off turnovers in this past Saturday's loss at Utah State, as Wolford lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, threw a pick-six and had another interception that lead to an Aggies touchdown three plays later.
"We're certainly not explosive enough on offense that we can spot people 21 points," Clawson said.
Complicating matters was the loss of left tackle Antonio Ford, a redshirt senior who left Saturday's game with an ankle sprain. He may return against Army, but if he can't, Wake will likely rotate three players at the two tackle spots.
Still, Wolford's demeanor has been encouraging. Clawson liked the way he overcame his errors to lead his team to a 17-point second half this past weekend, and others have been impressed by his maturity.
"I think he's gained a little bit of confidence since he got that first game under his belt," receiver Jared Crump said. "Especially being a true freshman, that's a big experience to start as a freshman. But I think each game he's progressing a little bit more, getting a little bit more confident."
Beyond this Saturday against the Black Knights, little seems to be potentially on the horizon in terms of tangible results. But Wolford and Clawson both know what they signed up for, and they know there will be plenty to build on down the line as Wolford and his program begin to find their footing.
"We're putting way too much on him right now," Clawson said. "We're one of the worst teams in the county right now at running the football. Because of that, we're very one-dimensional with a true freshman quarterback, and that is a tough recipe for success. You've got to find ways to run the football and become more balanced and not put so much on our young quarterback."