Northwestern (Rock Hill, S.C.)
senior Justin Worley
finished off a record-setting career and championship season with one of the nation's most prestigious awards.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Tennessee-bound quarterback was named the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year within the hour.
Worley passed for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a 15-0 season and Class AAAA-II state title. Northwestern is No. 8 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings
Former Gatorade North Carolina winner and Florida standout Chris Leak, now starring in the
CFL, presented Worley with the award during a surprise impromptu
ceremony in a team meeting room on campus.
Worley and his teammates were preparing for a school assembly where they were to be presented with a state championship trophy, the school's third overall and first since 1993. Instead, Leak interrupted and let Worley know he'd won the national Gatorade award. Later in was announced in the school's gym in front of the entire student body.
"I'm still completely overwhelmed," Worley said in a phone interview about an hour after receiving the award. "When I saw (Leak) walk in the room I wondered what he was doing there. When he gave me the news, I just couldn't believe it. I was stunned."
A 4.07 student, Worley is the first player from South Carolina to win the prestigious award and joins a long list of decorated players that includes Peyton Manning, Emmit Smith, Jeff George, and more recently Matt Barkley and Garrett Gilbert.
"There's some amazing players who have won this and I'm completely humbled," he said. "This really isn't an individual award though. It's a team honor. I had amazing receivers making all the catches. My line gave me time all year long. We had a great running game and have great coaches and defense.
"This has really been a dream season in every aspect."
He plans to graduate from Northwestern in January and enroll at Tennessee in the spring.
Though his dad is named Peyton, and he twice attended Peyton Manning's summer camps in Louisiana, Worley said the Indianapolis Colts and former Tennessee quarterback isn't necessarily his idol.
Everything from his height, smarts, leadership and southern drawl resembles Manning, but Worley said all imitations are simply reflections of his own parents.
"If you wanted to be a football player, Peyton Manning would certainly someone you would want to be like," Worley said. "What he does on and off the field is special, the way he leads his team and the offense and his community. I wouldn't say he's my idol, but I definitely pay attention to everything he does."