By BJ Bennett
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Athletic accomplishments are temporary, personal accountability is much more everlasting -- just ask Tim Worley.
By the time he was a teenager, Tim Worley knew that he could run the football. He, and the rest of the country, knew how fast he was, how strong he was and just how valuable he was to any team on the playing field. What he didn't know, unfortunately, was what else set him apart, what truly made him who he was.
After a standout prep career at Lumberton High School in North Carolina, one where he earned Parade All-American honors, Worley chose to play college football for Vince Dooley at the University of Georgia. It was the chance of a lifetime for Worley, an opportunity to measure himself at one of the top programs in the nation against the best the game had to offer. Worley chose to be the next-in-line at a school that had produced storied runners like Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi and Herschel Walker.
"You have to be a special guy to go to the University Georgia and play tailback. A lot of people call their schools the Tailback-U, but I say Georgia is Tailback-U. We're known for the 6'1'', 6'2'', 220 pound guy that runs a 4.3."
On the field, Worley's impact was immediate. He led the team with ten rushing touchdowns his freshman season, scoring most famously on an 89-yard touchdown scamper against archrival and top-ranked Florida. That game, Worley formally introduced himself to the big stage with 125 yards rushing and one of the most iconic runs in school history.
"That Florida Gator game, that's the one that most people remember," Worley acknowledged. "We are still the only team in Georgia history to actually beat a number one team. We beat Florida, they were ranked number one in 1985 when I was a freshman. A lot of people didn't really give us a chance to win and we went down there and beat them 24-3. That's when I had that long 89-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. That's what really sealed the deal. That's what really rings with a lot of the Georgia fans when it comes to my name."
Worley would go on to an All-American career in Athens, leading the SEC in rushing in 1988 with 1,216 yards. He was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year that fall after tearing through league defenses for the 9-3 Bulldogs. Worley finished his career with 2,038 yards rushing, 27 rushing touchdowns and a remarkable 5.8 yards per carry. His name was quickly called by the National Football League. Worley was selected in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft, seventh overall behind the likes of Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. Worley was drafted by the famed Pittsburgh Steelers, his bruising nature being the ideal fit for the black-and-blue style of the black-and-gold.
Just as Worley was hit with fame and fortune, he was also slammed with and by the ills of temptation. Faced with key choices in his life, this football star routinely made the wrong decision.
"We all make mistakes. One of the mistakes I made in my younger days was just my immaturity and my lack of character," Worley admitted. "Integrity is a major thing. When the responsibility got thicker for me, especially in the NFL, I couldn't handle it. When we can't handle it we begin to mash the sabotage buttons around us and that's when things start falling apart. Just not knowing at that young age...I became an overnight millionaire and all of the sudden I had the world in the palm of my hand and I didn't know what to do with it. The wolves were out and I fell for it. I fell for all of the lies, all of the hoopla."
While Worley's weekends were spent under the bright lights, his free time was often spent in the shadows. As his NFL career continued, so did his problems. After missing a pair of mandatory drug tests in 1991, the former suddenly stopped. Worley was suspended from the NFL for an entire season before later resurfacing alongside Neal Anderson with the Chicago Bears. The legal problems remained a constant in Worley's life, prematurely ending a promising professional career and forcing a very real self-evaluation on someone who had never really done much big picture thinking.
"It's a very slippery slope because a lot of these guys, you see them on Saturday and on Sunday but you don't really see them during the week. Most of these guys aren't prepared mentally or in their spirit. One of my theories, when you're character doesn't match or exceed your gifts and talents, your character will eventually tear you down. All character and integrity is is taking on responsibility. When I was with the Pittsburgh Steelers my responsibility grew, but eventually my lack of character tore it down because I really didn't want the responsibility because I was afraid. Where I'm at today, I can admit those things because I grew up. Through my failing, that help me to grow up."
As a middle-aged man with his playing days well behind him, Worley and his wife now run a ministry called Worley Global Enterprises. His life and business partner, the former Dee Foster was the first African-American gymnast at the University of Alabama. She stands as one of the most storied female athletes in SEC history, a 17-time All-American record-setting national champion for the Crimson Tide. While she handles this administrative side of things, as Tim describes "like a beast", he works as a motivational speaker, a counselor and a mentor. He is also a spokesperson and mentor coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama. More than anything, Worley is a living course-correction.
"I want to hear about your failures. I don't just want to hear about your victories because it's your failures that will strengthen you if you allow them to. One of the things I try to teach the youngsters today is don't be afraid to fail because you will someday stumble. You will have to get back up and keep moving," he explained. "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. Along this journey, we are going to stumble. It states that in the Bible. God is there to pick us up and help us."
Worley links his recovery to his faith. He also credits his enlightenment to the redefining of his life, the rebranding of his role and image.
"We want to be whole, we don't just want to be one-dimensional. We get labeled as just athletes, as dumb jocks. I want to be whole," he continued.
Worley's mission moving forward is to help young people embrace that conclusive reality. While football can open many doors, it does so while oftentimes keeping the individual hidden behind the facemask. Worley is here to help remove the proverbial helmet. Athletic accomplishments are temporary, personal accountability is much more everlasting.
"Take responsibility, get to know who you are. You are more that just an athlete. That was the thing that made me stumble. I thought my only identity was as an athlete and that was a lie. I want these kids to know that you are more than just an athlete, there is more to you than just running the football," he concluded.
A storied career and dozens of football cards later, Worley still doesn't have all of the answers. Nobody ever does. That said, he's telling his story to anyone who will listen. When everyone knew who he was, Worley, quite frankly, didn't. While most have now forgotten his story, it's he who has finally figured it out.