Try as he might, Chase Wolf could not ignore the questions from well-meaning people about why he wouldn’t just switch schools to become a starting quarterback elsewhere. He possessed Division I talent entering his junior season at Ohio high school powerhouse St. Xavier. He also was one grade behind teammate Sean Clifford, a 4-star quarterback who was committed to Penn State.
It would have been easy for Wolf to scout out other programs in the Cincinnati area, transfer and take over with a fresh start. But Wolf was resolute in his responses every time a new query came his way. I’m not leaving. I love the school. I love the coaches. I love my teammates. I’ll get my chance, and I’ll be ready.
Wolf’s mother, Jeanne, admits that the family recognized staying could be a risky move. What if Wolf didn’t play as a junior and subsequently didn’t draw the necessary interest from college programs? Ultimately, however, the decision was one that came down to a basic philosophical belief within the Wolf family.
“You don’t change schools,” said Chase’s father, Steve. “I don’t care if the guy in front of you is projected to be a 5-star or player of the year in the state or in the nation. You stay. And you learn. And you compete.”
Wolf, a University of Wisconsin signee in the 2018 class, clung to that mindset early in his junior season and earned an opportunity when Clifford suffered a foot injury. Wolf wound up starting seven games in place of Clifford and threw 16 touchdown passes. He split time with Clifford the rest of the season, as St. Xavier went on to capture a state championship.
The season served as validation that Wolf belonged on the big stage. That fall, he earned his first scholarship offer from Central Michigan and his second from Wisconsin. He picked up 18 offers overall before committing to Wisconsin on May 5.
St. Xavier football coach Steve Specht recalls bringing both of his quarterbacks in for a meeting before the 2016 season. The message was clear: St. Xavier had two great quarterbacks, but only one could play. So, Specht would give both players an opportunity in an open competition.
“Chase loved that,” Specht said. “He loved the fact that he had a chance to compete. But I think what’s different about Chase Wolf is he didn’t care whether he was starting or whether Sean was. All he cared about was, ‘What can I do to help us win?’ And that’s what Chase is all about.
“He’s going to fight like hell to take your job. But at the same time, if he’s not the guy, he’s going to support you as best he can. Most kids aren’t wired that way in this day and age.”
Chase Wolf’s senior-season highlights
Wolf’s tenacity and talent stood out during his high school career. He finished his junior season with 1,391 yards passing and 16 touchdowns. He was sensational when he took over as the full-time starter in his senior season. Wolf passed for 2,532 yards with 27 touchdowns. He earned first-team All-Ohio honors, was the Greater Catholic League South player of the year and the Southwest District offensive player of the year. He also maintained a 4.0 grade-point average.
To understand what makes Wolf tick, he cites a game from Week 2 in his senior season, in which St. Xavier fell behind 14-0 against Colerain just seconds into the fourth quarter. St. Xavier’s offense had been inept in poor passing conditions. But Wolf rallied the team to two touchdowns in the final 5:16 to force overtime and eventually led St. Xavier to a 20-17 comeback victory. Wolf finished the game completing 10 of 16 passes for 92 yards and 1 touchdown. In overtime, he scored the game-winning 1-yard touchdown run.
“I believe I’m the ultimate competitor,” Wolf said. “I believe I can make any throw at any time, and I know that the next play is going to be better than the last. I have a short memory. If something goes wrong, then I just make up for it. I believe that’s one of the best intangibles you can have. Not arm strength or speed, but leadership and competitiveness and mental toughness.”
Those traits are what drew Wisconsin to the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Wolf during his junior season. Chase’s father said he first began paying attention to the Badgers’ football program well before then. In 2011, ESPN aired “Depth Chart,” which chronicled quarterback Russell Wilson’s summer and fall camp at Wisconsin after he transferred from North Carolina State. Chase and Steve watched the episode with great interest.
Steve admired the way Wilson became a captain before playing a game and liked what athletics director Barry Alvarez and then-coach Bret Bielema stood for. He also knew the family of Badgers defensive end Pat Muldoon, who graduated from St. Xavier.
Steve and Jeanne became even more enamored with Wisconsin during the recruiting process based on their interactions with coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.
“I thought they were humble and modest,” Steve said. “Those are things that I think about when I think of my kids. It’s not about him. It’s a family. It’s not about one individual on the team. It’s about everybody. That’s what Wisconsin is. I thought Paul Chryst was so understated, which I loved. Rudolph was the same way.
“These guys aren’t about flashing their Rose Bowls. These guys are about going out, coaching young men and helping them to get better. What else could you want if you’re a dad? Screw the playing time. Get your education and be involved with people that can help you grow as a person.”
Chase, on the other hand, initially wasn’t so sure about Wisconsin. He didn’t even visit campus until last April 18. It marked the final school visit on what had been a whirlwind recruitment. At the time, Chase thought he would attend either Boston College or South Carolina. But his father had reminded him that the reason for falling in love with a college program was about the people. That’s exactly what transpired for Chase on the visit to Madison.
“When we went there on the trip, I looked at my wife and I said, ‘This is where he should be,’ ” Steve said. “He doesn’t open up. That’s just not his deal. You’re not going to see tweets about how great he is. He could give a s*** about who’s coming in behind him or in front of him. He doesn’t care. That’s just him. Wisconsin is that place.
“He could go to South Carolina. They’ve got a pool where their dorms are, and they’ve got gas grills, and they have pomp and circumstance everywhere. But he goes to Wisconsin, they don’t really care. It’s just not about that. I think he loved that. Low-key, no drama. Just very simple as far as you play football and go to school, and that’s it.”
Not long after Wolf’s visit to Wisconsin, he was convinced he wanted to play for the Badgers. In fact, Wolf called Jon Budmayr, who is now the Badgers’ quarterbacks coach, to tell him that Wisconsin was his top school but that he wanted to take a week to think about his decision before announcing it. However, Wolf didn’t initially tell his parents which school was No. 1. All he told them was that he had spoken to a coach at one of his potential schools about how much he liked the program.
“He finally told us the next day,” Steve said. “We were happy as hell. I’ll tell you that. We were ecstatic because we love what’s going on there. He can get a great education.”
Wolf, a 3-star prospect and the No. 39 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 class, showed during his recruitment once again that he wasn’t afraid of battling for a spot on the depth chart. When he committed to Wisconsin on May 5, the Badgers already had another quarterback committed in Ben Bryant. Bryant ultimately de-committed eight days later and signed with Cincinnati, making Wolf the only quarterback in the class.
Wolf comes from a family background of athletes. His father played basketball at North Carolina State and Xavier. His older sister, Sabrina, plays volleyball at Cincinnati. His grandfather, Charley, played football, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame, went on to a pro baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds and wound up as an NBA coach of the Cincinnati Royals and Detroit Pistons.
Chase’s cousin, JJ Wolf, competed in the main draw for doubles at the U.S. Open men’s tennis tournament in 2016 before he even went to college at Ohio State. In total, 11 of Wolf’s relatives have played college sports.
“In our family, it’s a little different,” Steve said. “All his cousins and uncles played sports. He’s no big deal in his own family. They play against everybody. Competition is what we do. That’s how he’s grown up. That’s how you get a job when you get out of college.”
Wolf’s loyalty in sticking with his high school also factored into his college recruitment. Coaches on the recruiting trail loved the story about how he didn’t switch schools and found a way to contribute at St. Xavier. Once Wolf committed to Wisconsin, he never wavered in his decision to stick with that commitment, even as in-state juggernaut Ohio State tried to sway him.
Steve Wolf said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, as well as assistant coaches Kerry Coombs and Ryan Day, came to the high school and attempted to convince Wolf to flip his commitment.
“Chase is never going to be the kid that flips or changes his mind or disrespects a coach,” Jeanne said. “He’s just never going to be that kid. When he makes his decision, it’s done. I don’t know how interested he would’ve been in Ohio State or any other school had it been early on. But he wasn’t interested. And he told them, ‘No thanks. Don’t even offer me. Don’t try.’ And they did come. They came to school and everything. They were like, ‘Are you sure?’ He was like, ‘I’m 100 percent sure.’ ”
While Wolf is not a dual-threat quarterback, Specht said he did have enough mobility to create on the run when a play breaks down. Wolf rushed for 7 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons. He describes himself as a pocket passer who can scramble if needed, and he worked to develop that skill set late in his high school career.
“Chase is incredibly athletic,” Specht said. “He’s faster than you think. He’s incredibly intelligent. But the thing that I think separates Chase from all the other guys I’ve ever coached is how much he competes. I could line Chase up at linebacker and even being undersized, he would fight, he would claw, he would do whatever was necessary to find success.”
Quarterbacks at Wisconsin generally enroll in college early so they can participate in spring practice and begin to learn the Badgers’ system. Wolf, however, was not able to enroll early. St. Xavier, a private Catholic school, requires four full years of religion and does not allow students to finish school early.
Wolf already has spent extensive time learning Wisconsin’s playbook at home. He said he has gained a better grasp on the formations, plays and defensive identities since he officially signed with the Badgers in December. If he ever has questions, he calls Budmayr for help.
Perhaps missing spring practice will increase the difficulty of Wolf’s transition to the college game. There are already four quarterbacks on the roster who have participated in spring practice: Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, Kare Lyles and Danny Vanden Boom. But, as Wolf has proven, he won’t shy away from competition.
“I’m not too worried about the quarterback room right now,” Wolf said. “I know that they’re good guys. I’m just worried about myself. That’s what I had to do in high school because people didn’t think I’d start until senior year. So I used that as motivation to work to get better and earn playing time my junior year. It doesn’t matter what they do. It just matters how I can handle myself.”