Senior Retrospective: Doug Worthington

Literally and figuratively, Doug Worthington's voice will be missed inside the Ohio State football program. The defensive lineman became an important leader for the Buckeyes to culminate a career of growth on and off the field, as this look back details.

Before Doug Worthington got to Ohio State, the defensive lineman from western New York let Buckeye fans know they should get used to hearing his voice.

In an interview with Buckeye Sports Bulletin after committing to OSU, Worthington admitted he liked to sing.

"My coach is laughing at me because I like to sing, but I can't," he admitted. "I can't sing a lick, but I like acting like I can sing."

During his Ohio State career, Worthington became known for that voice, but not for his ability to croon. Instead, his booming intonation turned familiar for media and fans alike as he matured into a senior captain and one of the standouts along what was perhaps the Buckeyes' best defensive line since 2003.

And, unlike a number of his teammates over the years, Worthington was able to go out on top, a fitting end for a player who did everything he could to overcome adversity both on and off the field during his time in Columbus.

"There's nothing like it," he said when asked about going out with a win, a 26-17 triumph on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. "I think of guys like Larry Grant, Troy Smith, James (Laurinaitis) – all those guys went out with losses and it was heartbreaking. I just feel blessed – truly blessed – that we were able to go with a W."

Blessed was a word Worthington used a lot at Ohio State, going back to his days at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, N.Y. Worthington actually started his career at Turner-Carroll High in Buffalo, but the school closed halfway through his prep career, forcing the switch in midstream.

"His personality has enabled everybody in the school to almost, like, adopt him, and he's adopted this school," new head coach Jerry Smith said.

He showed maturity, too, on the recruiting process, committing to OSU in September of his senior year over offers from Penn State, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia Tech. He decided to take a number of visits even after committing just to make sure of his choice, but he shied away from schools who tried to bring up the cloud surrounding the Buckeye program at the time caused by the scandal involving Maurice Clarett.

"The negative recruiting I did have, I cut it off," he said in early 2005. "A couple of schools negative recruited, but that's not my kind of stuff to downgrade anybody because you're not perfect. The schools that did, right now I'm not looking at them and that's the reason why. The schools that I'm looking at right now didn't say anything bad."

Worthington credited his move to the western New York power of St. Francis for helping him mature as a football player, and he made 85 tackles and six sacks as a senior for the Red Raiders. By the time he was set to graduate, Worthington had become one of the stars of the class of 2005, a 6-7, 256-pound freak who could run a 4.75-second 40-yard dash and was a five-star prospect.

The only problem was that he was ranked as a defensive end, showing the confusion of some schools when it came to decide where his skills would be most useful. Such debate continued throughout his career, as the Buckeyes started him as a defensive end that redshirted during his opening campaign. Still, he was able to learn while going against some of the better offensive linemen the Buckeyes have had under Jim Tressel that first season.

"Since freshman year I was getting a lot of reps in pass rush and a lot of reps in the spring because at Ohio State you have to wait behind some of the best players in the country," he later said. "When the time came to go against a Nick Mangold in pass rush and get beat by him and going against a Rob Sims, I tried to do good and beat some of those players."

Then adversity hit for the first time. Worthington went down with a leg injury during bowl practice, a knee malady that forced him to hurry to be ready in time for the 2006 practice season. He did make it back, though, and started to earn his first playing time while starting the transition to tackle.

In the season of 2006, when the Buckeyes posted an undefeated season and played in the national title game, Worthington finally saw the field in the fourth game against Penn State. He ended up playing in seven games that year, making three tackles – all in the second half of the season against Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern.

He spent 2007 as a full-time tackle, but seeing the tall, slender 270-pounder complete the position change inside drew question marks from some players.

"When he moved inside, (I thought), ‘What is he doing?' " center Jim Cordle said. "I'm in one-on-one pass pro and he's got his arms out here and I'm reaching for him but I'm way back here and I can't get him. That's a challenge that he brings inside; he's got longer arms than anybody he's going to play against."

His major task that season was learning how to use leverage to his advantage. At his height, it was never easy.

"Being my size, I've been bigger than everyone that's played since little-league football," he said. "I always wanted to have a good knee bend and be low because of leverage in the game these days: if you go high, you're going to go back. Playing as low as possible, using my limbs, my long arms and my legs at times to help myself."

Worthington started throughout the 2007 season, making 24 tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and an interception against Michigan State that set up a Buckeye field goal. He also took home one Jack Tatum hit of the week honor against Akron for destroying an offensive lineman, allowing James Laurinaitis to get a sack.

"We voted for him," Cordle said before referencing one of Worthington's skills that he would refine and put to good use over the years. "He just bullrushed. The play, he just punched the guy, drove him back and ran right over him. Doug was providing the pressure. We voted for him because that's what we've had to go through all of camp when he's been bullrushing us."

The Buckeye tackles ended up having a hit or miss season in 2007. A young, banged-up group that also included players like Todd Denlinger and Dexter Larimore was good many weeks and off in some, including in losses to Illinois and LSU in the national championship game.

"I would say that," he said. "The spread with Illinois, there are certain things that we should have done as defensive linemen that we didn't. We didn't stay in our gaps sometimes. LSU, we sometimes looked in the lights too much and we were just happy to be on that stage. At the end of the day I know that we'll be a lot more focused and a lot more ready for big games like that and be ready to play our ball."

However, bigger adversity soon hit Worthington. News broke in late July 2008 that he had been pulled over and charged with operating a vehicle under the influence, a black eye for a player who previously never had been in trouble. He was disciplined by the team and lost his starting role for the opening three games.

"It was just a feeling that you let the team down and throughout camp you were labeled," he said. "There was so much stuff it hit me pretty hard. Then I realized what happened was in the past and let's get on with this 2008 Silver Bullet defense and this football team."

At the time, Worthington talked about how tough the ordeal was and how he found it difficult to be himself around the team for some time. Those around him said the changes he made were positive after the incident.

"I just think over a period of time that in his mind he felt to himself, ‘That's not the way I want to live my life,' " defensive coordinator and line coach Jim Heacock said. "I think he decided that he needed to make a change."

All the while, his play continued to improve. Worthington started the final 10 games of the season and ended the campaign with 34 tackles, five TFL, a fumble recovery and a sack against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.

He stayed a model citizen throughout the resulting offseason and entered the '09 campaign ready for a big season. Worthington also was one of three players chosen to represent the team at the Big Ten media days in Chicago, an honor that often goes to prospective captains.

While in the Windy City, he talked about what it would mean to be a captain.

"It would be a great blessing and a great honor," Worthington said. "It's something that I think about once in a blue moon. But at the end of the day, regardless if I'm the guy up there, I'm still going to lead the team as much as I can and do my part.

"We've been around an extraordinary group of people. It's beautiful to be able to have your time to shine and have your time to be on top and have the younger guys look up to you and try to show them a great pathway as you have been showed before."

Those hopes finally came true when captains were announced in the days before Ohio State's opener with Navy – just over a year after his OVI arrest.

"Back then, you couldn't tell me that I was going to be a captain," he said. "That was farthest from my mind. I just wanted to make sure that I was on the team playing."

He soon credited his teammates for helping him during his low point and then bestowing the captain honor upon him a year later.

"I have no brothers or sisters, but they were my brothers and they made sure that they were there for me in my hard times," Worthington said. "Voting me captain shows that they believe in me."

Worthington did everything he could to back up his leadership role by having his most successful season in 2009. Starting every game, he finished with 42 tackles, five TFL and two sacks, but his effect on games could be hard to measure as Worthington – who dabbled at end again as a senior – was often in the backfield disrupting plays so that others could get the glory.

Still, two of his biggest plays won't soon be forgotten at Ohio State. Not only did he stop Oregon's LaMichael James for a 5-yard loss that led to a missed field goal in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, Worthington helped get the Buckeyes to Pasadena with an overtime sack of Iowa's James Vandenberg in the de facto Big Ten title game.

"It was a great call by the coaches," Worthington said. "It was a viper spy, and (end) Thad (Gibson) spied very well, and Nathan (Williams) did all the work. He came underneath and took two blockers. I just came off him real tight."

With the Rose Bowl victory assured, Worthington went out on one of the most decorated teams in Ohio State history and completed his trek from the outhouse to the penthouse.

"I get chills … just knowing that I can leave that legacy and be able to say that one day when I am old … we were one of the best teams at Ohio State," he said in his familiar booming voice. "It is huge for me."

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