Oct. 15, 2013
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Two Octobers ago, Justin Worley led the Volunteers through the T as the starting quarterback for the first time, and like he will against this Saturday, it came against the team from his home state.
The Rock Hill, SC native made his first-career college start against the 14th-ranked Gamecocks that night, despite entering the game having not thrown a collegiate pass. To that point in his freshman season, Worley had only been on the field for five plays, a QB sneak and four handoffs at the end of a loss to Alabama.
The debut wasn't what he had hoped for, 105 passing yards on 10-of-26 passes with a pair of interceptions. But the rough debut gives Worley perspective on just how far he's come since that first start.
"There's a huge difference from being a true freshman to a junior," he said. "Even though this is my first year in this offense, I'm a lot more confident. I have some starts under my belt, so I think confidence and my abilities have progressed since then."
Worley has started seven additional games since that night, and will start his ninth game overall on Saturday. The drive to be a starter in the SEC began back in his home state, where he was Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2010, becoming the first ever player from South Carolina to earn the honors in any sport.
"When you're dealing with young players and I still view Justin as a young player in terms of experience, every week is a new week, every game has a new life," head coach Butch Jones said of Worley's progress in five games as the starter this season. "I think Justin has had a high level of consistency, he's gained a lot of confidence. But you're only as a good as your last game and we're going to need a lot out of him Saturday."
Worley played with and against many of the athletes that will take the field for USC on Saturday, and one sticks out. A junior like Worley, Jadeveon Clowney has made his mark on the Gamecock defensive line from his first day on campus. His success has come as no surprise to Worley.
"I've played against him since I was a little kid," said the Tennessee QB. "He's always been heads above the rest. He's a great athlete and adds a lot of value to their defense."
Worley's confidence is at an all-time high after a strong performance against Georgia and a bye week to both heal and examine the intricacies of the South Carolina defense. And despite the home state ties, Worley said the hometown next to his name on the roster isn't the most meaningful part of the matchup.
"It would mean more beating the #9 team in the nation," Worley said. "I don't think it matters who it is. Granted, I did play with some of those guys and against a lot of them from Pop Warner to high school. Just getting this win, regardless of who it is would be huge for us."