SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arizona junior defensive lineman Jeff Worthy’s disastrous 18-month stay in the Boise State football program left him on the verge of quitting football.
“That week I got dismissed, I was down. I was depressed,” he said Monday during Fiesta Bowl media day. “I was not sure what to do.”
He was dismissed in early 2013.
A phone call from Santa Ana College coach Geoff Jones motivated him to give the sport another try. He spent one year rebuilding his life at Santa Ana and transferred to Arizona in January 2014.
Now a member of the Wildcats’ line rotation, he’ll play against his former teammates Wednesday in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I’m really excited,” said Worthy, who is from La Mirada, Calif. “These guys haven’t seen me for a while. I think I’ve really improved.”
Worthy (6-foot-2, 287 pounds) has made 12 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, this season. He is listed as the backup end and No. 3 nose guard in Arizona’s three-man front. He started three of the first four games at nose.
“My mom is my biggest fan. She can’t believe it,” Worthy said of his contributions on a top-10 team. “We’ve been through a lot as a family — me being the main source of that, whether good or bad.”
Worthy was part of Boise State’s troubled 2011 recruiting class. He chose the Broncos over a handful of offers from power-conference teams.
He redshirted in 2011 and was suspended from the program for most of the 2012 season. He was reinstated in January 2013 and dismissed before National Signing Day in February.
“I just wasn’t doing the right things,” Worthy said. “Just being an idiot, really. I was young, on my own, away from mom. Even my teammates noticed that at Boise. A lot of them didn’t really like me. I was always in fights.”
Before then-coach Chris Petersen sent him home, he reiterated the need for Worthy to alter his course.
“He really tried to change me,” Worthy said. “I just didn’t want to change at that point. He gave me a million chances — a million — and I just wasn’t responding the way he wanted me to respond. I had to go.”
He transferred directly to Santa Ana, rather than finish the semester in Boise. He turned the corner late that spring, he said.
“The junior college level is so interesting,” Worthy said. “It’s a bunch of guys who are misfits and they love playing football. Their love for the game really grew on me and I started to love the game even more, even more than before Boise. I had that fire I had in high school. High school ball really was where I found love for the game.”
He returned to major college football this year at Arizona and has fit in on a team that includes many players who started their careers elsewhere.
“My responsibilities have changed. My discipline has changed. These coaches have instilled that in all of us,” Worthy said. “ The football part doesn’t really matter. It’s all about who you are inside. My heart lies with this team. These players, man, they’re great. They accepted me, and I’m thankful for that.”
Arizona senior defensive tackle Dan Pettinato said Worthy has proven a hard worker and a smart player on the field.
“He’s buying in,” Pettinato said. “He wants to do everything right. He’s out there trying to get better and trying to help our team.”
Worthy hasn’t run into any of the Broncos in town this week, so he might not see them until game day. He has been in touch with his former roommates, Boise State defensive linemen Robert Ash and Elliot Hoyte, and is eager to see them.
Boise State senior defensive end Beau Martin, who spent the 2011 season on the scout team with Worthy, said he’s happy to see that Worthy has transformed himself.
“Sometimes you need a kick in the butt,” Martin said, “and you get it.”
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