Triumphant return for Mids star QB Worth
Greater Tampa-area native a surprising, inspiring starter
TAMPA, FLA. — Will Worth was excited when he learned that the Navy football team would be playing at South Florida during his senior season.
That’s because Worth grew up in the greater Tampa area and the American Athletic Conference game would be a nice homecoming toward the end of his college career. However, Worth’s anticipation was tempered by the knowledge that he would probably play a limited role on the day the Midshipmen met the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Most likely, the Newsome High graduate would be relegated to serving as holder on kicks.
Circumstances have changed dramatically for Worth, who will return to his hometown as the starting quarterback and surprising star of Navy’s triple-option offense. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior is coming off a performance that earned him AAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
When Worth takes the field tonight against South Florida, he’ll be in a position he never dreamed of going into this season.
“When we joined the conference, it was neat to see USFontheschedule,” Worthsaid. “I was definitely looking forward to playing close to home. I definitely didn’t think I’d be starting when this game came around. I’m just glad it’s worked out this way.”
Worth has repeatedly said he’s not happy about the reason for his ascension, which was the season-ending injury suffered by initial starter Tago Smith. However, Worth Tonight, 7 TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1430 AM, 1090 AM Line: South Florida by 61⁄ INSIDE: Catching up with former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds
was ready when pressed into duty and has shown significant improvement since taking over for Smith late in the first half of the game against Fordham.
After directing game-winning drives against Connecticut and Tulane, Worth took a step backward at Air Force — struggling with his reads and decisionmaking during a disappointing defeat. The Mids managed a mere 57 rushing yards, and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper conceded that the quarterback didn’t play well.
Worth bounced back in a big way against Houston, directing an attack that had 306 rushing yards while doing much of the damage himself. He carried 32 times for 115 yards and a touchdown, and kept the Cougars honest by completing three of five passes for 76 yards and two scores.
That outing was a confidence-builder, and Worth was even better against Memphis, establishing career highs by rushing for 201yards and three touchdowns. He was again accurate on the rare occasions the Mids went to the air, completing three of four throws for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve always said that we can win with Will. I’ve never doubted him one bit,” Jasper said afterward.
That being said, even Jasper and coach Ken Niumatalolo acknowledge that they did not foresee Worth evolving from game manager to game-breaker. Asked during this week’s AAC teleconference whether he was surprised by Worth’s production, Niumatalolo responded “yes” not once but twice.
“I thought Will could run our offense, but he’s playing a lot better than I thought he would play,” Niumatalolo said. Will Worth will return to his hometown area as the surprising star of Navy’s offense.
However, Niumatalolo noted that he was not surprised by the leadership Worth has displayed.
“The way Will is playing right now is inspiring our whole team. Because of his toughness, his passion, his will to win … it motivates the other players,” Niumatalolo said.
Worth stepping up when called upon is no surprise to those who watched him star as a quarterback, linebacker and punter for Newsome, located 25 miles east of Tampa in the suburb of Valrico. He was named the Hillsborough County Player of the Year and first-team All-State after leading Newsome to the Class 7A region championship.
A four-year starter on both sides of the ball, Worth accounted for more than 5,400 total yards of offense and 57 touchdowns along with nearly 300 tackles. Despite those gaudy statistics, he was lightly recruited and continued a family legacy by choosing Navy.
A grandfather graduated from Navy in 1953, while his older brother Joe Worth was commissioned last May after playing inside linebacker and serving as brigade commander. His parents, William and Susan Worth, served in the Navy after going through Officer Candidate School Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Jasper said Worth was basically a walkon and initially wondered whether he would ever make the travel squad.
Worth was given the role of holder for kicks as a sophomore. He handled those duties while serving as third-string quarterback behind Keenan Reynolds and Smith for two seasons.
“Will is pretty much a self-made football player,” Jasper said. “I wasn’t sure he would ever play, but Will stuck it out and kept plugging away.”
Jasper remembers Worth staying after practice to improve his footwork and enlisting teammates to help him practice handoffs and pitchouts. The veteran quarterbacks coach was not surprised to learn that Tim Tebow was Worth’s favorite football player.
“Will carries himself a lot like Tebow and plays a little like him as well,” Jasper said.
Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner and star quarterback at Florida when Worth was in high school. “I just liked the way Tebow played, the physical mentality and the obvious passion,” Worth said. “He is just so genuine. That was the type of person and leader I wanted to be.”
Worth has played at Raymond James Stadium twice before — with a Pinecrest Pilots youth football team that won the Tampa-area “Super Bowl” and in the Hillsborough County Senior All-Star game.
Tonight, he will try to get Navy bowleligible on the same field by beating the school located not far from his house.