Worthington swaps sides, tackles QB job at Towson

September 06, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

For 20 years, Towson State coach Phil Albert has talked about how demanding it is to quarterback the pass-happy Tigers. It would be easier to go into brain surgery or aerospace engineering.

For four years, Gary Worthington lined up on defense for Towson State. When the Tigers begin what they hope is a turnaround season Sept. 14 against Boston University, he'll be the quarterback. Is Worthington that talented, or is Albert that desperate?

To both questions, the answer is yes. Three days before the end of spring practice, Albert realized that neither of two rookies was ready to replace record-setting Chris Goetz at quarterback. So he tossed the ball to Worthington.

"We're a year older on the offensive line, we've got veteran receivers and mature backs," Albert said. "We went into spring camp with two young quarterbacks, and while both [sophomore] Bob Campbell and [freshman] Bill McDuffee are making progress, it's the one position I feel we need to have some maturity.

"We needed a guy who could walk in a huddle who has the respect of every person on the team. There were 83 guys in spring practice, and 79 of them voted for Gary Worthington as one of our captains. He's the guy."

The same one who has spent the last three autumns plugging holes on the Tigers' defense. As a redshirt freshman, he was a backup at strong safety. As a sophomore, he filled in at linebacker and defensive back.

He's on the cover of this year's media guide, in the outside linebacker's stance he assumed in 1990, when 94 tackles, a fumble recovery and two interceptions earned him recognition as Towson State's MVP after a tumultuous 2-9 season. At 5 feet 11, 205 pounds, he was a small Division I-AA linebacker.

"Strong safety was my predicted position the last two years," Worthington said. "I've been moved so many times, this is nothing new."

When Albert raised the idea of playing quarterback to him, Worthington said yes, sir and trotted over to another assistant coach. His father spent 21 years in the U.S. Army -- the family was living at Aberdeen Proving Ground when Gary was born -- and Worthington enjoys the discipline and militarism inherent in football.

"My dad was a first sergeant, and we were his trainees," Worthington said of himself and his three brothers and three sisters. "If my room was untidy, I would stand in formation. I'm used to doing things when I'm told."

What Worthington isn't familiar with is throwing a football. At Overbrook Regional High in West Berlin, N.J., east of Philadelphia, Worthington was a full-time linebacker and part-time quarterback. He actually had more success as a 187-pound wrestler, winning three district titles and 87 career matches, and was a catcher in baseball.

"It's been five years since I've thrown to wide receivers in a game situation," Worthington said. "You can't overplay the importance the quarterback in this [Towson State's] system. Having four years to familiarize myself with it would have been easier. My arm would have been better, but I didn't have that luxury."

In New Jersey this summer, Worthington worked the night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. He averaged three hours of sleep and spent his waking hours either at a gym or throwing to teammate Eric Peterson, a reserve tight end who lives in a nearby town. He also studied a playbook, albeit one thinner than the ones his predecessors used.

"We're not overloading him," Albert said. "He has fewer reads, fewer audibles. He understands defenses from all the time he's spent on that side of the ball. He's a bright guy, and we wouldn't try this if we didn't think he could handle it."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.