ATHENS – Tim Worley lives in Alabama these days, but the former Georgia tailback has a message that Mark Richt likes, so Worley is back in Athens often.
Worley spoke to his former team for the seventh time since Richt became the head coach, this time after Tuesday’s first preseason practice. Worley, the former All-American and NFL first-round pick, had his pro career cut short by substance problems, which he continued to battle into the late 2000s. Now with his life turned around, Worley shares his life story with a number of groups, and the Bulldogs have become a regular stuff.
“These young men are trying to go somewhere that I’ve already been,” Worley said. “And basically, I didn’t do it the right way. I screwed up, but God restored me, he gave me another opportunity so I can invest in these men’s lives. Even my failures and victories I can invest and show them how they can avoid it and some of the steps they can take.”
It’s no secret that Georgia’s football has endured its own off-field problems, and one of the efforts Richt and his staff made to fix them was the former athlete testimonials. Worley wasn’t even the only one this week: Chris Herren, whose promising basketball career was derailed by drug and alcohol problems. Herren, like Worley, had spoken to the Bulldogs before.
In Worley’s case, he offers the perspective of a former Georgia football player, which bridges the age difference.
“Once he starts talking and sharing his story, no matter who you are you can really connect with it,” Georgia senior tight end Jay Rome said. “You can tell where he’s coming from is really genuine.”
Is there a correlation between such speakers and Georgia’s (so far) quiet offseason? Rome thinks so.
“We’ve had one of the best offseasons we’ve ever had, trouble-wise, since I’ve been here,” Rome said. “We haven’t had anything that’s hindered our team at all. We were really locked in this summer.”
Rome also gave credit to strength coach Mark Hocke, who established a leadership group comprising about 20 players, mostly upperclassmen, including Rome. They meet once or twice a week to “discuss what it means to be a leader,” according to Rome.
Worley spoke to the team for about 30 minutes on Tuesday night. He had a bit of a captive audience, as players were exhausted after their first full practice of the season. (And players were attentive, player development coordinator Bryant Gantt said.)
Worley isn’t under any illusions that his speech will forestall any future problems by the players: He remembers speaking in 2011 to a team that included, among others, tailback Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed from the team a year later.
But Crowell is now in the NFL, entering his second year with the Cleveland Browns, which speaks to Worley’s aim.
“I look at it as planting a seed,” Worley said. “Didn’t really get into talking about football, but just talking about life, and what it takes to be a man of great character and integrity.”
And he doesn’t pull any punches on his own personal life, which included an arrest and tasering in 2009. That was rock bottom, and led to his life turnaround.
“Let my pain be your wisdom,” Worley said he told the players. “I let them know that it’s not up to me whether the seed (of my message) falls into good ground. Because I remember sitting and listening to people talk when I was your age and I said it wasn’t gonna happen to me.”
He paused for emphasis, and smiled.