Wortham not a watcher

Cornelius Wortham went to Alabama's season opener last year against South Florida, but he didn't have that much fun. Later, he was on the sidelines for the Oklahoma game, and the feeling wasn't any better.

By the time the Kentucky game rolled around, he couldn't stand it anymore, so he didn't go to any more games except for the Southern Miss game, because he had a cousin that played for the Golden Eagles.

Wortham's problems stemmed from the fact that he suffered a season-ending elbow injury in fall practice, before what would have been his senior season. He took a redshirt, but found it hard to stand on the sidelines when he couldn't help the team.

"I emotionally couldn't go (to any more games)," Wortham said. "I'd get to the gate, and I'd just turn around and go back home."

Cornelius Wortham directs traffic at the line of scrimmage. (Barry Fikes photo)

Wortham said being unable to play against No. 1 Oklahoma was the toughest. The game was closest the Sooners played in the regular season as the Tide only lost 20-13.

"When we played Oklahoma, that was a big game I wanted to experience," Wortham said. "We came up short. I was thinking, "'What if I could have been in there?'"

"You don't really miss a place until you've been there for so long," Wortham said, of playing for Alabama. "It got to the point where I couldn't go to the stadium anymore."

During a tough 4-9 season, Wortham bonded with defensive end Todd Bates, who had to miss last year because of a disciplinary suspension.

"We bonded," Wortham said. "We became workout partners. Our goal was to get back on the field."

But when Wortham gets back on the field for practice, he won't be at his customary outside linebacker position, where he started during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. He was moved to middle linebacker, where he'll compete for time with returning junior Freddie Roach.

Head coach Mike Shula said the move had a lot to do with the production of outside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Juwan Garth, but Wortham's toughness and experience will be valuable to an already talented linebacker group.

"He gives us more depth in the middle," Shula said. "There's going to be more plays inside, and we've got to do better against the run. For a guy with his size and toughness, it's a good spot for him."

Wortham accepted the challenge with open arms, and said he'd do everything possible to learn the position.

Since arriving on campus four years ago, Wortham has worked hard in the weight room, building himself into an athlete capable of handling the middle linebacker position.

"To be successful, you need to know all three linebacker positions," Wortham said. "It shouldn't be a hard transition. The outside man had to cover some wide receivers, and the inside man covers the running backs sometimes."

Wortham actually has experience playing in the middle--although he'll be the first to tell you that it wasn't that important.

"I played some in high school," Wortham said. "But that really doesn't count. They just tell you to line up and find the ball."

And even if he isn't starting over Roach, it's ok. Wortham is just happy to be out there playing again.

"Whatever you can do to help the team, that's what I'm about. It's all about helping the team."

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