The overwhelming priorities in the collaboration between Virginia’s football and baseball coaching staffs are to keep the goals of the Cavaliers’ two-sport athlete within reach and his right arm healthy to do everything he must to achieve them.
Jay Woolfolk is the ACC’s leader in games finished on the mound this season with 10 while boasting a 2-0 record with two saves and a 1.32 ERA over 13.2 innings. He’s also contending for the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback job during spring practices.
“We’re really working together with football to make sure, for one, that he gets taken care of and his arm gets taken care of for football and baseball,” UVa pitching coach Drew Dickinson said, “and that he’s able to compete for us as well.”
Said Hoos football headman Tony Elliott: “And it’s been fun to watch a guy do that because I always admired growing up and watching Deion [Sanders], watching Bo [Jackson], watching Frank [Thomas], watching Brian Jordan and those guys do it. I was a fan because I wanted to do both when I was Jay’s age.”
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Elliott said he’s gone back and forth since before spring football began with baseball skipper Brian O’Connor — Dickinson and quarterbacks coach Taylor Lamb are involved as well — about how to make the balancing act possible.
This time last spring during Woolfolk’s freshman year, he wasn’t needed on the gridiron because the Cavaliers returned their then-starting quarterback, Brennan Armstrong, so Woolfolk was exclusively with the baseball team and quickly became one of the top relievers.
He’s the Hoos’ best bullpen option now, but he has to practice with football, too, since Armstrong departed and the opportunity to win the starting signal-caller gig is there.
“It’s been Coach O’Connor and myself looking at the schedule weekly,” Elliott said, “and determining what’s best for Jay to be able to compete over here but also compete and help the baseball team.”
Elliott said the process begins on Sundays when they map out the week ahead. How often Woolfolk is available to practice with the football team and throw during drills depends on baseball.
Elliott said he told O’Connor: “‘That young man has just as bright of a future in baseball as he does in football and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of that,’ so it started with, ‘What does baseball need from him? What do we need from a football standpoint? And what’s the priority?’”
Said Dickinson: “He’s full-go on baseball and we get to limit him there [with football]. And it’s great of Tony to let us do that because he could easily say, ‘I want him,’ so he’s been great and so accommodating to understand that Jay has a future in baseball right now as well. And right now, it’s working out well.”
This past week, Woolfolk practiced Tuesday and Thursday with football, and could do that because the baseball team began a six-game homestand. He did not allow any earned runs over 2.2 innings of relief Wednesday against Georgetown and Friday against Florida State.
The week before and next week, Elliott said, with baseball on the road for the weekends, Woolfolk was not and likely won’t be with football as much.
And when the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder is on the practice field, he’s sharing first-team reps with Monmouth transfer quarterback Tony Muskett. Because Woolfolk is limited with how many throws he can make during drills, Elliott said he plans for those tosses to be ones he, Lamb and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings can seriously evaluate.
“So, he got up to 40 throws on Tuesday and then 40 throws on Thursday,” Elliott said, “and we managed those throws because we tried to make sure that those throws were heavily leaning toward the competitive stuff against the defense so he could get that look.”
When he cannot throw during football practice because he’s slated to pitch either later that day or the next day, but is still in attendance, Elliott said, Woolfolk will, “work his footwork, he’d work his quarterback-center exchanges, he’d work his running back exchanges, but he won’t throw.”
On those days, Muskett will take first-team reps and Elliott will bump up one of the other quarterbacks on the roster — freshman Anthony Colandrea or sophomores Grady Brosterhous, Davis Lane Jr. or Delaney Crawford — to step in for Woolfolk.
But when Elliott has all the quarterbacks, the top reps are divided between Muskett and Woolfolk. Elliott said in every five-minute period of practice for the offense, they try to get 10 reps out of it and the first four go to Muskett and Woolfolk. Second-team reps are being shared by Colandrea and Brosterhous while third-team chances go to Lane and Crawford.
Muskett, according to Elliott, has fit in well and is learning the offense quickly.
“Tony has played a lot of football,” Elliott said, “and when you think about a guy like him, it’s kind of like a free agent quarterback and he’s done what he’s done. He just has to transition the terminology.”
Elliott said Woolfolk “looks good” but there’s one element the two are working to improve.
“The fastball in football, you’ve got to take a little off so that scenario,” Elliott said with a smile, “so we’re getting him to continue to grow and develop because it’s just touch you’ve got to have with the different throws.”
At Disharoon Park, it’s not an uncommon sight to see Woolfolk’s fastball explode past and overpower an opposing hitter at 95-plus mph.
“He’s one of our best arms and he may be their QB1,” Dickinson said. “He needs to be there and we want him to be here, so it’s a delicate balance with his time, but we’re all doing our best to make it all work.”