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LITHIA — Surely a wart lurks somewhere in Will Worth’s life.
Beneath that wristband bearing the spiritual message, behind that pile of straight-A report cards, a crack or two must exist. Maybe it’s nestled discreetly amid those titles (student body vice president, team captain). Then again, maybe not.
Physical flaw? Hardly. Worth never has missed a game in four varsity seasons. Pedigree, perhaps? Nope, both mom and dad served honorably as Navy officers. By the time you uncover a misguided devotion to the Jacksonville Jaguars and an abysmal jump shot, you realize the only dirt on this kid is caked on his powder-blue jersey.
“It’s one of those things that’s too good to be true,” Newsome High School football coach Ken Hiscock said.
Then it hits you, a moment of clarity in which you realize you’re closer to Pleasantville than Pinecrest. Look at the offense Worth operates, a wing-T nearly as retro as wingtips. Look at him lining up at quarterback, middle linebacker, even punter. Isn’t this the era of specialization?
Look at his close-cropped hair, only a couple of razor swooshes from a crew cut. Listen to all his “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.”
William Thomas Worth Jr. is woefully out of style.
But not out of the playoffs.
“How many quarterbacks do you know, or have known, that have played (middle) linebacker?” said Durant coach Mike Gottman, whose unbeaten team hosts Worth and the Wolves (7-4) in Friday night’s Class 7A region semifinals.
“He’s just a tough, tough kid. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s not too many other kids out there like that.”
Chat up Worth for about a half-hour at a concrete picnic table on Newsome’s campus, and he’ll stress the collaborative effort Newsome has employed to win its past four games, including a 52-7 humiliation of Gaither in last week’s playoff opener.
Worth ran for 181 yards in that game, while fullback John Hendricks had 106 and wrecking ball-sized senior Clint Carnell had 89. Worth is just as effusive in his praise of linemen Sean Berhens, Jacques Braggs, Tim Greene, Colin Hallford, Zach Hiller, Ken Burnham and Huy Nguyen.
“We’ve really grasped the concept of unselfish football,” he said.
Yet the unquestioned cornerstone is Worth, the consummate throwback on offense who happens to throw down on defense.
The numbers are staggering for large-school Florida football. Worth (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) ended the regular season as Newsome’s leader in passing (816 yards), rushing (1,139), tackles (82), caused fumbles (four) and fumble recoveries (three).
“Superhuman,” Hiscock said.
“He makes anything he’s a part of better,” said East Bay coach Frank LaRosa, whose team has fallen to Newsome the past two years.
“Put him on your swimming team or basketball team and you are instantly better. He’s one of those types of competitors that, at the end of the game, I’m looking to shake No. 15’s hand.”
The youngest of Will and Susan Worth’s three kids, Will Jr. began playing football around age 5 at a YMCA in Rhode Island, where his dad — a retired Navy helicopter pilot — was stationed. His family settled in Valrico by the time he was ready for kindergarten.
From that point on, his career has been defined by two constants: Worth has always played multiple positions, and he never has received less than an A on a report card. Ever.
As a Newsome freshman, he backed up senior quarterback Matt Klenke and started at linebacker, registering a team-best 74 tackles. He has started both ways since, exiting the field only for kickoffs and kick returns.
His most significant injury during that time: a strained neck sustained in the 2010 season finale against Plant.
“After a game I’m definitely pretty sore,” Worth said, “but if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t feel right.”
“I think (his endurance) is because of his work ethic and the way he lifts weights,” said Hiscock, corroborating Worth’s 345-pound bench press.
“And it’s not only just when we lift weights. He goes above and beyond so when we get done he’s going into (his garage) and working out. He’s putting in the extra effort, extra work. He does things to separate himself from others.”
But creating separation from the area’s other college prospects has proved daunting.
Among the rare breed of recruits whose weighted GPA (5.44) exceeds his 40-yard dash time (4.7), Worth still awaits his first scholarship offer. Navy, where older brother Joe is a sophomore, has expressed interest. So have some Ivy League schools.
Otherwise, Hiscock’s at a total loss. “I don’t know what it is about that,” he said. “We send the tape, the coaches come through and they see his transcripts. People have (6-1, 210-pounders) in their state, so I don’t want to say that he’s a dime a dozen. According to his height and weight he is. But talking about attitude and leadership and all the things coaches want to have on their teams — that is Will Worth. I don’t know. I do not know.”
Know this: Worth intends to go out in style — retro style. With Newsome’s next defeat, his days of punt, pass and tackle expire.
Somewhere, at a college program or military academy, the 21st century beckons.
“I’m not going to be able to (go both ways) in college, so I know that either offense or defense is going to end after this season,” he said. “So I’m just trying to take it in and enjoy it all.”