Navy quarterback Will Worth never thought he would get the opportunity to start. Tago Smith was the clear starter heading into 2016, and Worth accepted his role as a backup in his senior season. He was known to most Midshipmen fans as the holder.
Worth played in every game in 2015, holding every kick and extra point, but in the season opener against Fordham, everything changed. Tago Smith suffered a career-ending ACL tear, and Worth was the next man up. He hated the circumstances. He saw Smith as a brother. But Worth had learned behind Keenan Reynolds, one of the best quarterbacks to ever take the field in Annapolis. The senior was ready to lead.
Worth scrambles in a game earlier this season. (Navy Athletics).
"I always just wanted to do anything I possibly could to keep playing," Worth said. "I was focusing on helping the younger guys on the team. Unfortunately it changed in the first game pretty abruptly. There were times it was tough to keep the motivation up and keep working all the time. But there have been other guys in this program that have worked through tougher times and made it out. There's always hope. It's the whole next man up mentality."
Last Saturday, Worth led Navy to one of the biggest wins in program history. The Midshipmen toppled No. 6 Houston 46-40, in the most unexpected upset of the college football season so far.
Worth wasn't prolific through the air, but he didn't need to be. He was meticulous and careful, finishing the day just 3-of-5 as a passer, with 76 yards two touchdowns and no interceptions. The senior has thrived as a runner in Navy's triple-option system. He added another 115 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
It was the biggest stage Worth had ever played quarterback on. But three years of learning and preparation paid off – he wasn't nervous and exuded confidence from the initial whistle.
"We knew we had a chance to win," Worth said. "We knew we had to play as close to perfect as we could. After our first drive, we went three and out, I was kind of like, 'okay we need to get this going right now.' I wasn't nervous, but I knew we had to kick it in gear. We knew we could drive against them, we've been studying that game plan all summer. We were prepared."
Worth, who was relatively unknown to most college football fans entering the season, became a celebrity overnight. He was named AAC Offensive Player of the Week, his photo was plastered on the sports section of The Washington Post, and ESPN's SportsCenter tweeted a graphic of the Navy quarterback after the wIn. Worth's week was jam-packed with national radio interviews and conversations with the biggest names in sports media.
The days of simply holding kicks seem like a distant memory.
ESPN's Sportscenter tweets a photo of Worth after Saturday's upset win. (ESPN)
This has been one of the most memorable weeks of Worth's life. The Naval Academy canceled classes on Tuesday in celebration of the victory.
"We've been on cloud nine," Worth said. "It was just awesome. My family was in town, I got to share it with all of them. But we all know in this locker room that things can change quickly. We have to keep things rolling."
Worth and his teammates have a tough test ahead. They need to put the emotional high of the win over Houston in the rearview mirror and focus on the upcoming task: a good Memphis team (4-1).
But now, Worth isn't just a face in a crowded locker room. He is a leader, and he will do everything in his power to make sure his Midshipmen are ready.