Tri­umphant re­turn for Mids star QB Worth

Greater Tampa-area na­tive a sur­pris­ing, in­spir­ing starter

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

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.

PATRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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