Will Wolford started his career as the St. Xavier football coach with a 32-14 victory over Ballard Friday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Somebody missed a blocking assignment for the St. Xavier football team in the first half of the Tigers' game against Ballard Friday night.
Actually, it might have been a couple of somebodies. A couple of times. Nearly 5,600 people came to St. X wondering how many points the new football coaching regime led by Will Wolford would hang on the Bruins.
The answer after one half?
Not many. The Tigers led, 6-2.
If you expected screaming or fanny-chewing you came to the wrong place. Wolford noticed several of his linemen trudging off the field after one ugly series. Heads were down. Wolford intercepted his blockers as they reached the sidelines. This is what he said:
"I gave up four sacks on Monday Night Football one time. If you had a bad snap, trust me, I've got you beat."
I'm not going to say that was a turning point in a game that St. X won, 32-14. But I am going to say there is no other coach in the Jefferson County area who will encourage and correct his players with as many thoughtful anecdotes as William Charles Wolford.
Nobody who played in three Super Bowls. Nobody who played in three Pro Bowls. Nobody who was the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Nobody who called Indianapolis Colts' games on the radio for more than a decade or who co-hosted a radio sports talk show in this town.
Nobody whose players tell him they researched him on Google and found a pair of strange pictures – one a crazy face Wolford made for a Sports Illustrated cover shot.
"He never really brings up what he's done in the NFL," said Charles Walker, a senior running back for the Tigers who played so hard he scored twice and vomited twice. "It's only ever brought up if one of the players is joking on him. He's a very humble guy.
"He's very vivacious and very alive. He'll get on you if you do something bad, but it's not necessarily a negative."
Like saying one bad snap doesn't equal giving up four sacks on Monday Night Football.
Nervous? Wolford didn't act nervous. He's 49. Wolford knows what nervous looks like. He was on the sidelines when Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas couldn't find his helmet in the first quarter of the 1992 Super Bowl.
A guy who is nervous isn't likely to answer a question about whether he's nervous in the middle of the game as Wolford did when he encountered a reporter on the sidelines in the first quarter.
"I got nervous when I played," Wolford said, as he squinted into harsh sunlight as the St. X defense chased the Ballard quarterback. "Coaching is a whole different game. You do all your worrying during the week leading up to the game. When the game comes, you're prepared."
Preparation is a Wolford specialty. Always has been. His father, Moe Wolford, St. X Class of 1948, encouraged Will and his brother to run three miles a day and jump rope relentlessly when they were teenagers.
That got Wolford through St. X, which got him a scholarship to Vanderbilt, which got him into the NFL as a first-round draft choice of the Bills in 1986 – and kept him in the league for dynamic 13 seasons. He made good money, enough to make certain that his parents retired when they were 56, enough that Wolford isn't coaching high school football for the paychecks.
Wolford had ample opportunities to coach in the NFL or college. He was not ready, not with a wife and three daughters. Now two of his daughters are in college. It was time. Time to give back to his alma mater and to kids.
"He really loves working with young people," said Bellarmine basketball coach Scott Davenport. "You can tell by the way he interacts with them."
The way that Wolford figures it the only people who ask him why he wanted to accept the responsibilities and pressures of coaching a program like St. X are people who never met Moe Wolford, who passed away 3 ½ years ago.
"Almost all my friends that I played with know my Dad," Wolford said. "And by knowing my Dad they know that he knows exactly why I'm doing this job and would be very proud of me for doing it.
"He would have been so proud of me for taking this on. But I did it because I wanted to do it as well. People who know my old man, they know he's smiling like crazy.
"For some friends of mine, who don't understand it, they're like, ‘What are you doing?' But the guys I played football with absolutely get it. And they're kind of jealous."
Wolford scheduled two meetings in his everyday job as a financial advisor early Friday, but he arrived at St. X at 10 a.m. He did not leave the school until long after the game ended.
Friends like Jim Kelly, his quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, and the radio crew for the Indianapolis Colts, where he worked until the season, sent him with encouraging text messages. St. X fans have embraced Wolford. Athletics director Alan Donhoff said the crowd was the largest at the school since the first game when the new football stadium opened in 2007.
Wolford and former St. X coach Mike Glaser have made the transition as respectful as possible. A plaque honoring Glaser and his seven state titles was hung in the locker room Friday night.
Wolford told his players he wanted them to fist-bump the plaque on their way to the field before the game. Glaser waited near the runway outside the locker room to encourage every player.
Glaser was also one of the first guys to congratulate Wolford for the victory after the game. Wolford thanked Glaser, Donhoff, his assistant coaches, his players and the lessons his father taught him.
"I played a kid's game my whole life," Wolford said. "I made a living out of playing football. That prolongs your adolescence. There's just nothing else I'd rather do."