Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Will Worth's leadership skills extend well beyond the gridiron.
That confidence has helped Worth and his teammates fight through a season that has already been full of adversity.
The senior from Valrico, Fla., took over as starting quarterback when senior Tago Smith tore his ACL during the Midshipmen's season-opening 52-16 win against Fordham Sept. 3. While there have been some ups and downs, Worth has battled hard each game and kept Navy's triple-option offense rolling. Worth, a senior, also excels in the classroom, with a 3.48 GPA in ocean engineering.
"You have to tip your hat to that kid," Niumatalolo said. "He, like Tago, kept his mouth quiet and continued to work. He comes from a great family. In a school full of leaders, this kid is a leader among leaders. He is a special, special young man."
In his first start Sept. 10 against American Athletic Conference rival Connecticut, Worth showed versatility with his arm and feet. When the Huskies stocked the box in the first quarter, he threw a 47-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman. Later in the game, he completed another 40-yard pass to senior running back Calvin Cass Jr.
And then later, with 3:08 remaining in the game, he barreled into the end zone from 1-yard out for the go-ahead score in the 28-24 victory.
A week later, Worth led Navy to another comeback against Tulane when he scored on a 1-yard run with 2:57 remaining for a 21-14 win. Worth finished with a career-high 113 yards on 25 carries against the Green Wave.
Worth also became the first Navy quarterback to lead fourth-quarter comebacks in back-to-back games since Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada accomplished the feat against Air Force and Pittsburgh in 2007.
However, his biggest moment came Oct. 8, when Worth led Navy to a 46-40 upset win against then-No. 6 Houston. The victory marked Navy's biggest win against a ranked opponent since 1984.
Bigger challenges, though, still lie ahead. The Midshipmen are looking to have another successful season in the American Athletic Conference, and, of course, beat Army at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 10.
Because of his steady progress, Worth was nominated for this year's National Football Foundation Campbell Trophy, which is awarded to the premier scholar-athlete in college football. The National Football Foundation selects 12-14 finalists for the award, and each of them receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. The winner of the trophy will receive an additional $7,000 in scholarship money. Worth was also nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy, which goes to the college football player who "best combines exemplary community service with academic and athletic achievement."
"Quarterback is definitely about leadership, but it's more than that. You can't have a Boy Scout that can't play," Niumatalolo said. "Will has a great skillset. He's a tough, physical runner who throws the ball well. We're going to play to his strengths."
Worth admittedly learned much about the game playing behind record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens this year. Despite scoring the most touchdowns in the history of college football, Reynolds also knew how to get other players involved and limit turnovers. Good leaders know how to delegate, and Worth has embraced that philosophy.
"The thing about Keenan was he got us in the right play all the time and got the ball to the right person," Worth said. "That's what the coaches say. The two big keys are do that and take care of the football, and we'll be good to go. I've been watching the film of that for the past couple years, and to see him do that, it's something I'm definitely trying to pick up on."
Worth's emergence as the starting quarterback and leader is the result of the hard work he has put in behind the scenes. Last year, he received the Vice Admiral Mack Award, presented to the most improved player during spring practice. He also embraced his role as the holder for field goals and PATs and appeared in all 13 games.
"Will Worth is a great guy off the field and does everything he's supposed to do in the hall," Navy senior slotback and co-captain Toneo Gulley said. "He's just a model Midshipman. I could definitely see him being the superintendent or commandant."
Worth was a four-year letterman and three-year captain in football at Newsome High School in Florida. He had a productive senior year that led to the opportunity to play football for the Naval Academy. In his final season, Worth was named First-Team All-State, All-Conference and All-County. He was also named the Hillsborough County Player and Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 1,051 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,537 yards and 19 touchdowns and had 104 tackles on defense.
Off the field, he was a stellar student and a member of the National and Spanish Honor Societies. That prowess in the classroom and on the athletic fields helped make him the quintessential Midshipmen recruit. There was also a sense of familiarity with Navy because his brother, Joe, is a 2015 graduate of the Academy and was an inside linebacker for the football team.
After three years of working hard on and off the field, Worth has gotten an opportunity to shine at the most prominent position in football. However, the opportunity is bittersweet, because it came at the expense of Smith and his season-ending injury.
Now, Worth is looking to carry on the winning tradition of Reynolds and run the offense as seamlessly as Smith. Like everything else in his life, Worth has embraced the challenge.
"I've got big shoes to fill with Keenan being gone and Tago getting injured," Worth said. "I definitely put a lot of responsibility on myself to keep this thing running the way it has been over the years. It's always been next man up. Everyone has to be ready at all times, because just like that, something can happen."
Issue 226: October 2016