Elliott didn’t anticipate Woolfolk leaving program, and now UVA’s QB depth is a major problem

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Throughout the spring and early summer, it was somewhat routine that quarterback candidate Jay Woolfolk would text football coach Tony Elliott and ask if they could chat, to which Elliott was always eager to discuss any topic with his player.

Woolfolk was performing a delicate balancing act of playing two varsity sports at Virginia, baseball and football. He was a relief pitcher for Brian O’Connor’s College World Series baseball team, while participating in spring football practice where he was expected to compete with transfer QB Tony Muskett for this fall’s starting job.

All that suddenly changed in mid-July when Elliott opened up a Woolfolk text that bowled him over. Woolfolk was giving up football to focus solely on his baseball career, leaving Elliott and his offensive staff in a bind. There are no experienced quarterbacks in the system behind Muskett.

“You know, I wasn’t anticipating [that text],” Elliott said at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte. “I knew that [Woolfolk] was having a good season and the selection to the USA (baseball) team was a big deal because that’s inspired and motivated by the professional ranks.

“So I was thinking that when I got this text that it was going to be one of those, ‘Coach, you know I’m about to be done with my time here with Team USA … I’m getting really excited to come back.’”

Much to Elliott’s surprise, that wasn’t the topic of Woolfolk’s text.

“It was one of those [texts], ‘I discussed it with my family and we feel like the best decision is for me to focus on baseball,’” Elliott said of the text’s content. “I completely respect that. At some point in time he was going to have to make a decision if you desire to truly chase the professional ranks in either sport. It’s just unfortunate with the timing.”

Timing is everything, as the old axiom goes. This timing leaves the Virginia offense in a bit of a bind. Muskett was a quality quarterback at FCS Monmouth, but unproven at the FBS, Power 5 level.

None of the QBs behind him on Virginia’s roster have ever taken a game snap.

Davis Lane, a sophomore, has been moved to safety.

Anthony Colandrea, a 6-foot true freshman who enrolled early, got a lot of time in the spring game, but that’s his only college experience thus far.

Delaney Crawford, a 6-2 sophomore, has no snaps.

Jared Raymen, a 6-2 fifth-year, has no snaps.

Grady Brosterhous, a 6-2 sophomore, has no snaps.

Deven Sherwood, a 5-10 sophomore, has no snaps.

In spite of the bad timing, Elliott said he can’t hold that against Woolfolk, who was one QB sack landing on his throwing shoulder away from ruining a possible pro baseball career.

“That’s nobody’s fault, just the nature of the situation we’re in,” the coach said. “Now, for the flip side, it’s tough for the football team because there’s no guys out there that you can go and bring into the program that will replace the competition that you lost with Jay’s departure, and the experience he had in the game. We don’t want to go out and just add somebody to the roster, especially with the chemistry and the progress that we’ve made from a cultural standpoint. Plus, there weren’t many options.”

Not at this late date, a couple weeks from training camp. That’s not the time to go hunting another quarterback. Elliott and his staff should have done that as a safety precaution when the transfer portal was red-hot with activity. What would it have hurt to bring in another QB to battle Muskett, a potential starting job for a disgruntled QB somewhere else who wanted a shot? If nothing else, it would have been a solid insurance policy in case Woolfolk decided to shelve his football career, which many expected — even predicted — would happen. Even if Woolfolk didn’t give up football, Virginia could have used another experienced QB as a backup in case Muskett or Woolfolk were injured.

Elliott divulged that had Woolfolk come back and not won the starting quarterback job, he was good enough of an athlete that the staff would have built in packages in order to use him, or possibly place him at another position.

“At any position that he chose to play, he would be amongst the best if not the best on the team,” Elliott said. “Definitely there was going to be a package for him based on his level of comfort.

“I believe that he had a professional career in baseball. Football, he potentially still had some more development that needed to take place, and unfortunately with the missing of spring ball (Woolfolk was at practice taking ‘mental reps,’ not physical, and threw lightly). It’s hard to determine, but I think you could determine at this point that he’s got a good chance of being a (baseball) draft pick (in the future).”

Elliott said that if Woolfolk had desired to be Virginia’s punt returner, then he would have been the punt returner. If he wanted to be a running back or receiver, that door was also wide open. But again, injury risk to a potential “golden shoulder” lingered.

Even had he played another position, Elliott would have insisted that Woolfolk be prepared to play quarterback, even if he didn’t win that starting job. Why? Because, once again, there’s absolutely no experience behind Muskett.

If Muskett is to be pushed at all in fall camp, it will come from the early enrollee Colandrea, who threw for 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in Florida high school play last fall. Elliott calls him his “young pup,” who got a lot of playing time in the spring game, but that was a spring game.