MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last season, West Virginia’s defensive coaches quickly recognized what kind of player true freshman Daryl Worley was. Contrast that to Worley’s unofficial visit the previous year, when almost none of the coaches recognized him at all.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” Worley recounts.
The three-star prospect had driven down from Philadelphia with his parents for a casual look around campus in the summer of 2012. Finding the stadium gates open, Worley strolled through the tunnel toward Mountaineer Field where coaches were milling about.
“All the coaches were looking around and they didn’t really know who I was,” said Worley, whose mature disposition and looks easily could pass for a guy in his late-20s.
“As I was walking out to my car, Coach Holgorsen came out and started yelling at the coaches, ‘You don’t know who that is? That’s Daryl Worley!’ And they all came out running out to the parking lot.”
Worley said his parents felt reassured by Holgorsen’s excitement and the coach stampede that ensued. They must have been very assured: Their son never visited another college.
He could have landed at Wisconsin or UConn or Pitt, but Worley sensed a comfort at WVU and committed once lead recruiter Jake Spavital guaranteed him the No. 7 jersey. That was Worley’s football number at William Penn Charter High, a number his cousin and best friend Fabian Johnson wore in basketball. The boys had long pledged to share No. 7, a pledge Worley ha carried on after Johnson was murdered execution-style in a Philadelphia park during October 2010.
Though Spavital left for Texas A&M a month before signing day in 2013, newly hired cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell picked up Worley’s recruitment and solidified the connection. He watched the 6-foot-1 Worley run at two high school track meets and sensed his athleticism could make an impact somewhere in the secondary.
Anywhere, actually, and the staff used the true freshman in 11 games at safety, cornerback and a hybrid linebacker spot. Worley finished eighth on the defense with 45 tackles and second with five pass break-ups. He made his lone interception in Waco, the only stop West Virginia made during Baylor’s 56-point first half.
“Everyone comes in with high hopes, thinking they’re going to play as a freshman,” he said. “I just came in working as hard as I could in camp and over the summertime. I knew I didn’t want to be redshirted.
“During 7-on-7s, I got kind of comfortable. It was a lot faster than I was used to, but at the end of the day, it was football.”
That dizzying loss at Baylor wasn’t the only time Worley seemed like a rare beam of hope for an overmatched defense. West Virginia’s 2013 defensive numbers—99th nationally in points allowed, 92nd in third down stops, 106th in passing yards allowed—were only fractional improvements over the 2012 abomination.
The plan this spring is to work Worley exclusively at right corner, where Mitchell has the unit switching from the shuffle technique to the backpedal Worley played in high school.
“Because we had him playing a number of positions last year, he never felt like he was completely at home,” Mitchell said. “He just needs to continue to look for ways to challenge himself, because he can be a special player.”
After Holgorsen, Mitchell and departed defensive coordinator Keith Patterson repeatedly praised Worley’s accountable approach to the game, he credited his strict upbringing by a father “who had no tolerance for dumb stuff.”
“I have an older father, so I had to mature quicker,” Worley said. “He was in his 40s by the time I was born, so he wasn’t really a younger, new-style teaching type of parent.”
Worley’s aim is to replicate the learning leap he made from the dawn of last season, when he self-critiqued film and noticed “You look stiff. You should be moving quicker than that!” The guy who started West Virginia’s ‘s final three games played more responsively than the Worley who was slowed by sensory overload in his William & Mary debut.
“From the players around you to all the fans, there is just so much adrenaline rushing through you—it’s a crazy experience,” he said. “You have to impress so many people and you’re anxious not to mess up. You’ve just got to clear your mind and make plays.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders knowing I’m locked into one position and can just become the best corner I can be. I can study one position, study what players are on my side of the field, and I will be able to break things down into a sharper image. My mind will be working faster.”