WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — More alike than different and more friend than adversary, Wake Forest quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton’s 18-month competition has reached an impasse.
Wolford may be the guy that the coaches believe can more consistently make quicker reads and zip the ball to the young, talented and deep group of Demon Deacon wideouts.
But Hinton is a dynamic playmaker that you simply can’t afford to keep off the field.
So they’re both playing.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson announced Monday afternoon that Wolford would get the start against Tulane in the season opener on Sept. 1, but that both quarterbacks would see the field.
“You’re playing. This isn’t, John’s the starter and you’re going to watch him,” Clawson said he told Hinton. “You’ve earned the right to play, and your performance has earned you that right. It’s your continued performance that will continue to earn you that right.”
Hinton has been sharp in camp, and continued that trend Tuesday, slinging the ball accurately to short, long and intermediate targets — in traffic and in one-on-one battles down the field.
“Kendall has looked great all camp, and that’s why it was very important that Kendall knows, John knows it too,” Clawson said. “It’s a fine line at that position, because you don’t want guys playing scared. But, they also need to play well. We’re going to have a plan on how it’s going to work out.”
Though Wolford emerged from fall camp last season as the clear starter, both played significantly during the season, but they were both hampered by injuries throughout.
A high ankle sprain hindered Wolford’s mobility, and a bum shoulder affected Hinton’s throwing motion after taking a big hit in the Florida State game. The injuries impacted their performance and added to the misnomer that Wolford was the “passing” quarterback and Hinton was the “running” signal caller.
“Last year, we just didn’t know who was healthy. There were games we didn’t know if we would have Kendall until two hours before kickoff. You get into games where John would look good early and then his ankle would wear down,” Clawson said. “Then Kendall would go in and look sore. It was hard to manage. I’m not saying it won’t be hard to manage this year, but at least you’re going into it managing two healthy guys. Last year we were managing two injured guys.”
Clawson said sometimes the question became, “Is John better at 70 percent or Kendall better at 60 percent?”
Wolford completed 60.9 percent of his passes as a sophomore, and has started in 22 games since arriving on campus in the fall of 2014.
“I’m very excited. This has been going on awhile. It’s good to know I got the start, but I have to continue to play well because the guy behind me is so good,” Wolford said. “He’ll get to play, and he’s such a good athlete and he can make all the throws as well. I think we’re going to be really good at quarterback.”
Wolford has also had a solid camp, as the two quarterbacks, along with redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns and true freshman Jamie Newman all continue to push each other.
“I feel I’ve done well. I’ve been seeing the defense well and getting the ball out of my hand. As camp goes on, your body starts to wear down a little bit,” Wolford said. “I’m going to get the next couple days off, and should be close to 100 percent going into game week.”
When not under center himself, Wolford has seen has successful Hinton has become.
“The whole goal of a team is to win games. Whatever combination at quarterback they feel they need to win games, I’m comfortable with that,” Wolford said. “Ultimately whatever the combination they use us, as long as we’re winning games, I don’t care. That’s the ultimate team goal. If it gets to a point where either of us are uncomfortable with the situation, I think we’ll be up front with the coaches. Hopefully we can find the right mix.”
Hinton said that Clawson told him that they both would play and both would have opportunities to showcase their abilities.
“He explained to me that it came down really close, and I understand that John has more experience. I let him know that even though I’m not starting, I just want my opportunity to play. That’s all I can ask for, is to have the opportunity to get out there and make plays,” Hinton said. “They explained that we’re both going to play. We’re both good players and we’re both going to have our opportunities out there on the field.
“Coach Clawson is a great guy. He’s very straight forward. He keeps it real.”
The two quarterbacks have repeatedly shared their admiration and respect for each other through the entire 18-month process — proclaiming that through it all, they’re still friends.
“Me and John have always been close,” Hinton said. “We don’t let anything like this get between our friendship on & off the field. We’re competitors. We’re going to work to get on the field, but we’ll never let it affect our friendship.”