When Christopher Worley got the start in the 2014 opener against Navy, it appeared he would as the very least be in the running to earn a permanent starting spot for Ohio State.
Then Darron Lee, who had competed with Worley in the offseason for the outside linebacker spot opposite Joshua Perry, returned a fumble 61 yards for Ohio State’s first touchdown of what would turn out to be a national championship season.
Worley, who recorded five total tackles against the Midshipmen, would go on to tally just six tackles the rest of the season and was forced to watch as Lee became a household name and soared onto NFL draft boards.
“The only thing I could do was go out there and control my part of things,” Worley said. “I went out there and competed. I helped the team in some ways, on special teams, but the reason I came here was to play on defense. You know, everyone has different paths and everyone can’t go on the same path.”
Now, Worley is on the path to finally lock down a starting spot in a season opener two seasons after he first earned that right. Even though he watched Lee have success at the same position, Worley said he “never batted an eye” and kept on working to improve himself.
“I mean, that’s what happens when you go to a great university like this. You get a lot of good players, great players that might come in at the same time and play the same position,” Worley said. “My biggest thing is I was never competing against Darron. I was competing against myself. I was just trying to get myself better every day. If I take care of myself, I put myself in a good position to play.”
While he competed against himself while Lee was shining on the field, Worley isn’t a lock to be the starter when the 2016 season kicks off against Bowling Green on Sept. 3.
True sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker earned playing time, mostly on special teams in 2015, and Worley said he and most Buckeyes on the current roster are not guaranteed anything as spring practice rolls on.
“This year, it’s me and Jerome’s time, and we’ve got the same kind of relationship that me and Darron had. We’re just going to try to go out there and try to make plays and help the team,” Worley said. “Guys are still competing to get on the field. With there being so many good players here, there’s never room to settle down. I pushed Darron every day to try to get on the field, and Coach (Luke Fickell) can vouch for that. For the other guys there’s a lot of open positions but if you were here before they were fighting for open positions.”
For Fickell, who coached and played with some of the best linebackers in Ohio State history, Worley needs to focus on playing to his own strengths and not trying to replicate the two seasons Lee put together.
“He has got to focus on being the best version of himself. He has to focus on his strengths. Too often, when you are playing with a great player, like the guys on the D-line, they got Joey Bosa, they can’t be focused and covet what their neighbor has, they forget to be grateful for all the gifts that they've got,” Fickell said. “Sometimes you lose one of those great players and it gives other guys an opportunity to shine and make them realize that they've got a lot of gifts too.”
As spring practice rolls on, Worley will have plenty of opportunities to show his coaches and Buckeye fans that there was a reason he started two years ago and can start again in 2016.