Head coach Tyrone Wheatley acknowledges he has a young team this year as Morgan State and MEAC football kicks off again after a 2020 hiatus.
Well, at least most of the Bears are young, with 29 freshmen or sophomores on the summer roster. Then there’s 25-year-old Wesley Wolfolk, a virtual graybeard by college standards. It’s not that it took the Upper Marlboro, Md., native longer to catch on at wide receiver. It’s just that Wolfolk ran a circuitous route to a starring role on this year’s Morgan State squad.
“He walks the walk and talks the talk,” said Wheatley, now in his third season at Morgan. “His work ethic and commitment make him special, and he truly gives me a guy that I can lean on. I ask him the hard questions and he gives me straight answers. He tells me what I need to hear.”
It’s not surprising that Wheatley almost talks about Wolfolk, the former Suitland High standout quarterback, like an assistant coach. After all, Wolfolk is entering his seventh year in college. He has a degree in liberal arts from Hampton University (where he played from 2015-2018) and is now in grad school at Morgan State for journalism.
“I used to question it so much,” Wolfolk said. “You ask yourself, ‘Why am I in all these situations?’ At the end of the day, it’s life. I think God definitely put me in this chair for a reason and that’s the reason I’m so confident. I have a lot of faith, not just for myself but for my team that this is going to be a great season. We’ve been through a lot.”
Wolfolk has been in college so long he could almost qualify for tenure. He has been through a lot, going back to high school when he put up big numbers as a quarterback but confusion about his transcripts landed him at Atlanta Sports Academy, a prep school, in 2014. Shortly after arriving, Wolfolk opted to pursue other opportunities and sent his film back out.
And Wolfolk had some really good film. At Suitland, he passed for more than 2,700 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 500 more yards and eight scores as a senior to help the Rams win a regional title and finish as state runner-up. He was nearly as impressive as a junior and also won state titles in indoor and outdoor track.
Wolfolk landed at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss., in the spring of 2015, but he moved on shortly thereafter. He was then recruited as a quarterback by Savannah State, Robert Morris and Hampton. During his recruitment, Savannah State coaches noticed Wolfolk’s Division I eligibility issue likely wasn’t a problem, just a misunderstanding. They told his family to check with the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“Everything checked out,” Wolfolk said.
Closer-to-home Hampton had an edge. Wolfolk’s childhood friend, Chase Powell, a standout receiver at Wise High School, was at Hampton. Wolfolk loved the wide-open offense the Pirates played, too. He redshirted that fall (2015) and then had a great spring camp in 2016. Head coach Connell Maynor told him he had a chance to start.
“I don’t know what happened,” Wolfolk recalled. “I got to [summer] camp, and I just wasn’t playing well. [Maynor] came to me after the first scrimmage and told me I might not even travel. He said I was too good an athlete to be a third- or fourth-string quarterback when I could be on the field.”
And so began Wolfolk’s metamorphosis to wide receiver.
“We had some injuries so they wanted to try me there,” he laughed. “I was dog-tired. I never ran that much in my life, but I did pretty good.”
Wolfolk had a lot to learn, and it was a tough adjustment, particularly getting used to not touching the ball every play.
“I still saw myself as a quarterback,” he said, “but I was open to it and becoming a better football player.”
And being open is one of the most important parts of becoming a receiver.
Wolfolk found that his experience seeing the whole field at quarterback, and knowing everyone’s role every play, helped him. He saw that he identified defenses quicker; his timing on routes was good; his big hands were a huge asset, and he liked the physicality of going against defensive backs, matching brains and brawn to get free.
“I’m not the fastest guy but I can be physical,” he said. “And I could quickly grasp all the concepts.”
Grasp, ahem, is also very important for receivers.
Wolfolk has a firmer grasp, too, than most college football players. He’s a veteran on the gridiron, coming off 22 catches, 385 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears in 2019, Morgan State’s last football campaign after the MEAC didn’t play in the fall of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also averaged 11.6 yards on punt returns. His production should explode this fall.
That’s the plan for a young man who has long harbored NFL dreams and a rock-solid belief he can make it happen. The NCAA came through with an extra year of eligibility, Wheatley has put together the foundation for a solid team and Wolfolk’s parents — Kevin and Charlotte — have provided him with a lot of tools to be successful, tools that have already served him well.
“This whole process has got me a lot closer to God and my whole spiritual side,” Wolfolk said. “I appreciate my parents keeping us in church [Cornerstone Peaceful Bible Baptist in Marlboro] and things like that. When you’re young you don’t understand what this means. Then you go through stuff and you’ve got something to lean on. Seeing the kind of people my parents are has meant so much me, too. They work hard and attack life passionately. They never complain, they just keep going.”
His father, a longtime high school football coach in Prince George’s County, mentored Wesley and his brother Myles, among many, many others in a nearly 30-year career. Myles, who played safety for and graduated from North Carolina, has transferred to Bowie State to play a final season and complete post-grad work at the CIAA Division II school.
The Wolfolks taught their sons and daughters Jasmine and Maya that hard work was a key to unlock doors.
“[My father] always said anything you want you have to work for,” Wesley said.
Wheatley could have told you work ethic was in the Wolfolk DNA.
“[Wolfolk] has worked so hard to change his body, and he leads our team both vocally and through his example,” the former Michigan and NFL star said.
Oh, and no matter what happens with professional football in 2022, look for Wesley Wolfolk on the field somewhere. He wants to pursue coaching.
“I love the game and it has done a lot for me,” he said. “I would love to be able to help others get to where they want to be. That would be awesome. I always try to help the young guys and tell them things I didn’t know at their age. Whether I get to the NFL or not, I can see myself coaching kids like my dad.”
Wolfolk will find out that’s a much more traditional way to grow old in the game.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson
Originally published Aug. 18, 2021