(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rams quarterback John Wolford describes himself as a pretty normal guy who loves football.
His path to starting for Los Angeles in a Week 17 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals with major playoff implications on the line has been anything but.
After going undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2018, the 25-year-old signal caller spent training camp with the New York Jets before being released. At the start of 2019, Wolford started for the Alliance of American Football’s Arizona Hotshots where he threw for more than 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He then took his talents to L.A. that same year, signing on with the Rams. Although he did not end up making the roster, he was signed to the practice squad before the Rams inked Wolford to a futures contract at the end of 2019.
The latest chapter of Wolford’s journey will be written come Sunday.
“I’m confident in the time I spent that has gotten me here and I’m confident in my capabilities as a player,” Wolford told reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “I know I can spin it, I know I can make the throws and mentally it’s about making the right decisions and giving us the best chance to win.
“I’m confident going into this week and I’m glad the team’s rallying around me and it’ll be fun.”
For a guy who has never taken a true NFL snap, Wolford doesn’t necessarily sound like someone who’s never been on the big stage before.
The main reason for that is his work ethic and the amount of reps he’s take at all levels of play, something Wolford prides himself on.
“Hard work works” as Wolford says, who practices every week like he’s going to be the starter.
He’ll need to rely on that hard work he’s put in as he gets set for a date against a Cardinals team that is tied for fourth in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles with 46 sacks. Leading the way this year for the Cardinals has been outside linebacker Haason Reddick, who’s tallied 12.5 sacks (tied for third in the NFL).
“They’re a talented bunch on defense across the board,” Wolford said. “Being efficient with the ball, getting it out quick, progressing through my reads; those are all things that you see from the best quarterbacks in the league and those are things I try to emulate when I play.
“I understand that they have a good rush and I’ve got to make those plays and not take sacks.”
Despite the looming matchup, Wolford has been keeping things mostly by the book. He’s prepping for the game like he normally would, including having a starter’s mentality, and hasn’t lost much sleep. For the most part, it’s business as usual.
That doesn’t mean Wolford doesn’t understand what’s at stake.
With a win, or a tie, over the Cardinals, the Rams clinch an NFC Wild Card spot. If they lose, the Rams would need a Chicago Bears loss or tie to make the postseason.
On the flip side, a Cardinals win would tie both teams at 9-7. Arizona would own the tiebreaker in this scenario with a better NFC West division record after splitting their head-to-head games with the Rams.
And while the noise around the Week 17 matchup is alive and well, Wolford isn’t going to let the moment get too large.
“Up until this point, yeah I think you can make that argument and 100% (this is) the biggest game,” Wolford said when asked about where Week 17 rates among his career. “First NFL start, it’s something you kinda dreamed about your entire life. It would be fair to say that, but I’m not going to get too caught up in the moment. I’m not going to be on social media, I’m not going to read all the headlines, whatever it may be.
“I’m just gonna go about doing my job. If I put my head down and work to the best of my ability, at the end of the day, whatever happens I’ll be able to sleep at night. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity and having a calm, level mindset coming into the game.”