Baseball: Woolfolk will start season in UVA bullpen while also competing for starting QB job

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Only two UVA baseball Hall of Famers had more pitching appearances as freshman over the past two decades than Jay Woolfolk last season, when he worked 28 games as a rookie for Coach Brian O’Connor.

Virginia’s coach hopes Woolfolk can build on that success in 2023, as the Cavaliers’ two-sport athlete takes the mound for what is expected to be an outstanding season. Only Josh Sborz (30 in 2013) and Casey Lambert (29 in 2004) pitched in more games as freshmen during O’Connor’s 19 previous years on the job.

It was no wonder that Woolfolk was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and second team freshman All-American by for his 2022 campaign.

Now, Woolfolk will try to take things up a notch, starting this season in the UVA bullpen and competing for a starting quarterback job on Tony Elliott’s football team during spring football practice.

“He is going to be significantly more involved in football than he was last year,” O’Connor said Wednesday when talking about Woolfolk’s busy spring.

Last season, Woolfolk was a backup quarterback to the sturdy Brennan Armstrong, so his presence in spring practice wasn’t that demanding. Now, he’s battling transfer Tony Muskett for the starting job and will find it necessary to work just as hard in football practice as during his time with O’Connor’s baseball team until spring practice runs its course.

Photo: UVA Athletics

“[Woolfolk] and Coach Elliott and I have met on a couple of occasions and we spent some great time together, along with our quarterbacks coach and our pitching coach, to put together a great plan for Jay so that he can be an elite-level baseball player while continuing to develop as a football player,” O’Connor said.

“Once he gets into spring football, that’ll ramp up even a little bit more, but he’s actually been throwing the football now for a week plus as part of his throwing program as a baseball player.”

O’Connor plans on using Woolfolk out of the bullpen to start the season, potentially not only as a closer in the ninth inning, but a pitcher who can throw three innings at the end of games.

“He’s been built that way in his preparation,” O’Connor said. “He’s trying to do something that is so incredibly rare. Jay is a gifted athlete. He’s very organized and detailed. He knows what’s on his plate and he’s got a great plan, and I believe he’ll execute it.”

Woolfolk was 3-0 last season as a reliever with a 2.87 ERA. He worked 37.2 innings, gave up 20 hits and 10 runs (all earned), while walking 12 and striking out 22.

He bolted into action early last season in the second game on Feb. 19 against Gardner-Webb and pitched the last inning of a 7-0 UVA win, needing only seven pitches to retire the side. Woolfolk went on to allow just one run over his first seven appearances, a total of 10 innings pitched.

As far as football, Woolfolk had a memorable start as a true freshman against Notre Dame in 2021, becoming the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for Virginia since 1977.