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Virginia didn’t have a full-strength Jay Woolfolk in Omaha: Spring football is why

Chris Graham
jay woolfolk
Photo: UVA Athletics

Something UVA baseball coach Brian O’Connor said about closer Jay Woolfolk after Sunday’s season-ending loss in the College World Series got my attention.

“This is the first year that he was required to go to football practice all spring, and I’m sure that took a toll on him a little bit,” O’Connor said. “There’s not many young men in America that are doing what he was doing in the spring, competing for the starting football job and being a pitcher. There’s guys that do it that compete at quarterback, but they’re not a pitcher. They’re an offensive player and things like that.”

It’s the word “required” there that got my attention.

Let me explain why.

It isn’t what you’d call news that Woolfolk, a sophomore who led the Virginia pitching staff this season with nine saves, and had a 2.91 ERA in 34 innings, had split his time in the middle of the baseball season to be able to take part in spring football practice.

The reason for that is Woolfolk is in the running for the open QB1 job with Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett. Both are gunning to replace record-setting quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who left via the transfer portal for NC State, where he reunited with his former offensive coordinator at UVA, Robert Anae.

Woolfolk was Armstrong’s backup the past two seasons, and Virginia football coach Tony Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings wanted to get the best look they could at how the hyper-athletic Woolfolk, who was recruited by Anae as an ideal fit for Anae’s spread offense, can maybe be a fit into their pro-style offense.

His availability for spring football was obviously limited, given his duties with the baseball program, but Woolfolk did get some live action in, with restrictions – Elliott referred to having Woolfolk on a “pitch count” when he had the QB behind center in spring practice.

Woolfolk also got plenty of what you’d call mental reps, getting play calls that were being given to QBs to run in drills and running through the progressions with them as the action played out in front of him, when he wasn’t able to participate physically.

This, around his baseball schedule, and that pesky little complicating matter of also having to be a college student, would no doubt wear one out, physically, mentally, emotionally, otherwise.

What got my attention on this after the season-ending loss in Omaha was how O’Connor phrased things.

“Required” is the key word here.

Maybe I’m just reading things into this, but ahead of the baseball season, the work by O’Connor and Elliott to schedule around Woolfolk’s availability was presented as being, for lack of a better word, collegial.

In the end, one can presume, Woolfolk would have final veto power over what he would be “required” to do, but then there is the reality that he is at UVA on a football scholarship, not a baseball scholarship, so it can be assumed that Elliott would have more sway than O’Connor would over Woolfolk’s availability for athletics.

How this plays into how UVA baseball’s season ended: Woolfolk, who O’Connor told us had gone through a spring that had taken a toll on him, was a shell of his early-season self for Virginia’s postseason run.

O’Connor used Woolfolk for exactly one pitch in the three-game Charlottesville Regional, three batters in the three-game Super Regionals, then three batters in Omaha.

If you felt that O’Connor was coaching with one hand tied behind his back in the College World Series, without an anywhere-near-full-strength Jay Woolfolk to use to close out games, well, yeah, he was.

Woolfolk is a dynamic athlete, and even if he doesn’t win the QB1 job – it would seem that the job is Muskett’s to lose – Elliott and Kitchings will figure out ways to get his freaky athleticism on the field, maybe as a wildcat quarterback or a slot receiver, a la Keytaon Thompson.

But this much is clear: Woolfolk, a projected second- or third-round pick in next year’s MLB Draft, has a future in baseball, not football.

It’s doubtful that we see him pulled away next spring for spring football, because next spring, he’ll be a few months away from having his name called in the MLB Draft.

And if you’re left to wondering how much farther Virginia Baseball could have gone in the CWS with a closer-to-full-strength Jay Woolfolk, keep in mind the feeling of helplessness we all felt after Jake Berry had given up the second bomb in the ninth, and O’Connor still felt like he had to leave him out there.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].