Tennessee commitment Justin Worley might only have three stars by his name on most recruiting services, but he now has one unique award on his resume that separates him from the rest of the nation’s top high school players.
Worley, a quarterback from Rock Hill, S.C., was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year on Thursday, putting him in the elite company of players who typically garnered much more attention as five-star recruits.
Longtime Northwestern High coach Jimmy Wallace said he and members of his coaching staff knew for a while that Worley would become South Carolina’s first player to win the prestigious award, but opted to break the news to him after the season, when he had fewer distractions.
Days after Worley finished his career in style, leading Northwestern to the Class AAAA-Division II state championship on Dec. 3., to wrap up a perfect 15-0 season, Wallace gathered the team Thursday for an impromptu meeting.
Waiting in the room was former University of Florida quarterback Chris Leak, a nearby Charlotte, N.C., native, who broke the news to Worley.
“Justin was completely, absolutely elated,” Wallace said.
On his way to shattering most South Carolina career passing records, Worley threw for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns in his third and final season as Northwestern’s starting quarterback. For his career, Worley threw for 13,385 yards on 1,129 completions and 157 touchdowns.
“Broke every record in the world,” Wallace said.
Worley, who committed to the Vols in July, is a three-star and considered the 30th-best pro style quarterback in the Class of 2011, according to Rivals.com. Since Rivals was founded, Worley is the first three-star player to earn Gatorade National Player of the Year honors.
The 6-foot-4, 195 pound Worley plans to enroll early and participate in spring practice. It doesn’t appear he will be able to squeeze an official visit to UT into his schedule, as he’ll be up for the South Carolina Mr. Football award in Myrtle Beach this weekend, will play in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in Spartanburg, S.C., on Dec. 18, and will then take a Christmas vacation with his family, Wallace said.
Worley graduated with a 4.07 grade point average.
“Honestly, in 39 years of (coaching), they could have not picked a finer young man,” Wallace said. “He’s incredible.”
Criteria to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year include athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character, according to its official website. It was founded in 1985, as former NFL quarterback Jeff George was the first National Player of the Year in football.
Past Gatorade National Player of the Year winners include former UT star Peyton Manning, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley and UCLA running back Malcolm Jones.
Safety Brian Randolph of Marietta, Ga., who committed to UT in June, was named Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year last week.
Andrew Gribble covers Tennessee football and recruiting. He may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble/