Since arriving on campus weighing "around 200 pounds," Cornelius Wortham has worked diligently in the weight room, building himself into a formidable athlete. "I don't want to lift weights and only half do it," Wortham said. "My father instilled that in me. I just love the weight room. When you can look in the mirror and see the progress, that gives you motivation to keep going."
That first year some fans wondered if he was more suited to strong safety, but countless hours of lifting and impressive layers of muscle later, nobody is asking that question anymore. "I put on 10 or 15 pounds that first year alone," Wortham said. "This past season some days I weighed 240. My exact weight on any given day depends on how much exercise I get."
An impressive-looking athlete, Wortham's arms would be the envy of many body builders. He credits genetics for his physique. "On my father's side of the family, they're all strong. They all have 'big guns' (biceps). My father is very strong. Even as strong as I've gotten in college, he can still go in the weight room and do what I do. And he doesn't even work out every day."
Linebackers are generally considered the best all-around athletes on the squad, and Wortham certainly proves that point. "In high school I played baseball; I ran track; and I played basketball," he related. "My coaches put me at small forward because of my strength. I was only 195 pounds then, so I could jump and run. They used me to rebound and to be the trash guy, cleaning up around the basket.
"In baseball I played catcher, third base and I pitched. I also played left and right field.
"In track I ran the 100 meter dash. My first year as a sophomore I went to state and came in fifth place. My senior year I went to state in the 200 meters and came in fourth. I also ran the second leg on our relay team."
Wortham's athleticism was never in doubt, but as his body has matured in college he's also added raw power to his physical resume'. He owns the bench press record for Alabama linebackers, and his incline (405), squat (525) and clean (315) numbers are also impressive.
But public gymnasiums around the country are filled with muscle-bound guys that can't run a lick, and Wortham hasn't forgotten his track past. "I've always been able to run," he said. "When I was gaining weight I always asked my coaches if they thought I was running well enough. They told me that if I ever thought I was getting sluggish, then cut back. The one thing linebackers have to do is be able to run."
A native of Calhoun City, Mississippi, Wortham came perilously close to signing with Tennessee. Like Bama's other rising seniors, he could have transferred to another school, due to NCAA sanctions. He certainly had the offers, but Wortham never seriously considered leaving. "If they had shut down the program… Well, that's the only way I would have left," he said. "I didn't want to divorce my team. Brooks (Daniels) and I are roommates. We talk about the game all the time. When you leave you've got to start over and make new friends."
Good friends since they arrived together as true freshmen, Wortham and Daniels have played opposite each other as bookend starters for most of the past two seasons. Last year Daniels led the team in tackles with Wortham just behind. The two totaled 107 and 90 tackles respectively. Wortham also contributed one sack, two pass breakups and four quarterback hurries.
"Making tackles is just my job," Wortham explained. "It's a matter of confidence. I just go out and play hard every game. Brooks and I always try and outdo each other. If either of us misses a tackle, we'll get on each other. ‘We've got to make that play. That's one less for our stats.'"
New Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines is known for developing quality linebackers. During his previous stint in Tuscaloosa, Kines worked with both Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas, both of whom went on to be All-Pros in the NFL.
Wortham hopes to add his name to that list. "The NFL is always a goal," he acknowledged. "I guess every young boy wants to play professional football. That's a dream, and I look at what I do every day is a step toward fulfilling that dream."
"But I've got a long ways to go," Wortham continued. "I want to get faster and more physical. I need to work on my footwork, keeping my feet active. If your technique is sound, you can get a lot accomplished. But if you don't use good technique you'll miss a lot of tackles."
Besides Wortham and Daniels, the Tide's linebacking roster includes Freddie Roach, Derrick Pope, Mark Anderson, Demeco Ryans, Juwan Garth and Juke King. "Alabama has done its share of recruiting," Wortham pointed out. "I personally think that as a unit we can be the best in the country. We're still young and working hard. We go out and compete every day.
"That's our goal. We want to be the best linebacking corps in the country."