Native Son A Rising Star At QB

Color Smyrna's stellar signal caller David Wolke blue, as in blue chip talent, blue collar mentality and a true blue son of the Volunteer State.

Certainly his fortune has taken off like blue chip stock in a bull stampede on Wall Street, putting him in elite company nationally and exclusive company in his home state of Tennessee — a fact reflected in the number of homegrown QBs that have led Tennessee's offense over the years.

The best known is Andy Kelly, who directed UT's offense as a starter beginning midway through his sophomore season in 1989 and was the starter in 1990 and 1991. Kelly went 24-5-2 as a starter for the Vols who captured a share of the SEC title in ‘89 and won it outright in ‘90. Kelly has gone on to fashion a successful Arena Football League career, but he wasn't as highly regarded coming out of high school as David Wolke is.

And yet Kelly is the only Tennessee native to start a full season at quarterback for the Vols since they became the last major college football program to scrap the single-wing offense some 40 years ago.

After that you have to go back to 1971 when fifth-year senior Jim Maxwell of Nashville claimed the starting job in game four and led Tennessee to seven straight victories to close a 10-2 season. Knoxville's own Todd Helton started two games in 1994 before giving up football to focus on baseball. UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders started a game against Boston College in 1987 and Joey Mathews started the 2000 season opener against Southern Mississippi before losing the job to A.J. Suggs of Georgia, who in turn lost it to Casey Clausen of California. Other prominent names to hold the UT starting QB job include: Dewey Warren and Bobby Scott of Georgia, Condredge Holloway and Tee Martin of Alabama, Heath Shuler and Jimmy Streater of North Carolina, Tony Robinson and Randy Wallace of Florida, Jeff Francis of Illinois and Manning of Louisiana. In fact, Manning started more games individually at quarterback for UT (45) than all the native Tennesseans combined (41).

That situation could be about to change. The only quarterback the Vols signed in the Class of 2003 was Jackson, Tenn., native Bo Hardegree, a sleeper with excellent potential. This year they are pursuing top notch signal callers from coast to coast in anticipation of losing Clausen. Two of those prospects just happen to reside within the borders of Tennessee in Memphis Melrose QB Antonio Heffner and Wolke. Heffner has only played football one season and remains an unknown quantity with great potential. Wolke, on the other hand, is a well known talent who is gaining in stature each passing day.

Most recently, he was named by Tom Lemming as one of the nation's ten best QB prospects in a class loaded with outstanding signal callers. He is also hearing from a plethora of big-time programs and will soon get a chance to exhibit his talent against the nation's premier passers. Wolke may be a little surprised by all the attention, but he also appears ready for it.

"When coaches started calling coach Shad (Smyrna head coach Phillip Shadowens), I realized how many schools wanted me." Wolke said. "Then some time last week I got invited to the Elite 11 Camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the top 11 quarterbacks in the country. I was the only one from Tennessee that got on Tom Lemming's ESPN list (of the nation's top prospects.)"

A quick check of Wolke's high school career reveals why he is one of America's most wanted. A starter since his freshman year, he has led the Bulldogs to the state playoffs three straight seasons. That's impressive for a school that isn't noted for its gridiron tradition and which plays a schedule loaded with larger 5A programs.

A marksman with a rifle right arm, Wolke has completed an outstanding 333-of-591 passes over his career for 4,661 yards and 41 touchdowns. As a freshman, he connected on 58-of-98 for 786 yards and seven touchdown. He followed that up with a standout sophomore campaign in which he hit 155-of-295 pass attempts for 2,067 yards and 16 TDs. Last season he completed 120-of-198 pass attempts for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns as the Bulldogs went 6-4 and lost in the first round of the 5A state playoffs to Cookeville by a score of 34-29.

"My freshman year we went to the quarterfinals against Hillsboro," said Wolke. "That's when they had John Henry and Alvin Fite, they both went to MTSU. We played them and almost beat them. We lacked a few seconds on the board and we didn't get it done. My sophomore year we went to the playoffs and my junior year we went to the playoffs."

Wolke's ability to maximize the talent of his supporting cast is one of his strengths, as is his versatility and athletic ability.

"He's multitalented," said Shadowens. "He's really good in the pocket. He's got great fundamentals, great feet, great arm, but at the same time he has the ability to run the option and to scramble. He's a guy who can do both, but his strength is as a passer who drops back five or seven yards back in the pocket and throws the ball downfield."

Wolke also has unshakable confidence in the most challenging of circumstances and the ability to perform under pressure.

"To step in as a freshman and start, we went to the quarterfinals of the playoffs that year, that was special," said Shadowens. "It never bothered him that he was in the huddle with a bunch of seniors and he was a freshman. He's definitely got what it takes to be a leader and he's obviously our leader. He's typical of great quarterbacks, able to keep his poise and his cool and handle the pressure that comes along with the caliber player that he is."

Wolke has been willing to put in the long hours needed to augment his ability and has seen positive results over the last three seasons.

"He's got a lot of God-given talent and the things he didn't have he's developed through hard work," Shadowens stated. "He spends a lot of time in the weight room and has gained about 40 pounds since his freshman season."

Standing an imposing 6-31/2 and 205 pounds, Wolke has also gained a lot of strength. He benches 310 pounds, squats over 400 and power cleans an outstanding 255. He runs a consistent 4.7 flat and rushed for over 400 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.

"He's s 4.7 and under," said Shadowens. "He's spent a lot of time in the weight room since his freshman year. He's put on about 40 pounds since his freshman year and added an enormous amount of strength."

Wolke is a rugged runner who isn't afraid to take off with the football or to take on tacklers.

"We run the veer here also," said Shadowens. "He can run the veer game and scramble down the field. It's a pretty tough combination to stop especially with a quarterback who can get the ball down the field and also run the option."

When Wolke isn't running or passing the ball, he's getting his team in the best possible play by effectively making pre-snap reads.

"Almost all of our run game is done by checks and our passing game we have some simple checks," said Shadowens, a nine-year coaching veteran. "He also calls the fronts and protections for us. He's really developed as a quarterback mentally as much as he has physically. He's able to control the game much better than he did a year ago or two years ago, especially."

Wolke is able to throw on the run both in sprint outs or when forced to scramble, but his forte is as a pocket passer who stands tall and hums the ball.

"He sees the field well," said Shadowens. "He's able to throw to the backside when we need it. If they overplay the front side, he's able to get the ball to the backside where we need it to be. He has good vision and he's never afraid to run the ball. He's pretty tough to bring down. He's physically strong and very tough."

"I feel like I can throw the ball well," Wolke said. "I just love sitting in the pocket, making my reads and throwing the ball. But I also like to scramble and make something happen. I am not that fast but I am quick and I can make people miss."

Although Wolke won't win any races against sprinters, his speed is equal to Tee Martin's and his combination of size, speed and arm strength is almost identical to Kyle Wright, a California quarterback prospect regarded as one of the nation's top quarterbacks last season. Wright was heavily pursued by UT before he eventually committed to Miami.

"I love to drop back in the pocket, read and pass the ball," Wolke said of his classic drop back style. "I also love to run it. I like leading the football team. That's what I really love to do."

Wolke's winning ways extend to the classroom where he carries a 3.3 GPA and is fully qualified. Possessing the full package, Wolke ranks higher than two west coast quarterbacks Tennessee sought last recruiting season — Richard Kovalcheck and Ryan Gunderson — who eventually chose Arizona and Oregon State, respectively.

Tennessee's pursuit of Wolke is sure to be much more cost effective and, obviously, distance won't be a problem as it was with Kovalcheck and Gunderson. He has always considered himself a Volunteer fan and attended his first quarterback camp at UT when he was only nine. He has attended a total of five quarterback camps at UT. However the Vols face a lot of competition for Wolke's services, and he plans to check out as many schools as possible before making a commitment.

"I grew up loving Tennessee, but I've got to look at the situation that's best for my future," he said. "A lot of college coaches have called me and I want to check out all the schools before I commit anywhere. Michigan has offered me. MTSU, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Boise State, Alabama. I'm pretty sure Tennessee is going to offer. They might offer at the camp, I'm not sure."

That offer could come Saturday when Wolke attends Tennessee's Senior Camp in Knoxville, but that's only the second stop on a summer tour of campuses that could include 10 or more colleges.

"I'm going to senior camp at Tennessee on Saturday," he confirmed. "I went to MTSU's camp this weekend. I'm going to try and go to as many as I can. I'll go to most of the schools I've named. I'm pretty sure I'm going to Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss. I just got through with MTSU today. Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida, I'll try to get to as many as I can."

Although he's not sure what he'll study in college, Wolke knows what he's looking for in a school and academics are large part of the equation.

"I'm looking for a winning football program and good academics," he said when asked to outline his criteria for choosing a college. "The coaches are important. You've got to click with them."

Wolke hasn't attempted to escape the scrutiny that comes with the recruiting process, in fact, he's meeting it head on with his own web site (wolke.com).

"My brother put it up for me," he said. "He's taking computer science at MTSU and he's really smart with computers. He thought it would help me out with recruiting so he made me a web site."

On his web site Wolke clearly lays out his dreams and goals in football which is the only sport he plays.

"I started playing football when I was six years old," he states. "I have always dreamed of playing major college and professional football. I started working on that dream at age eight. My goal is to sign with a top college in America and play for a national championship."

Long Tennessee fans have dreamed of a native son with the talent to take them to college football's promised land. Wolke might just be a dream come true for the Big Orange or he might leave them blue.


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