TUCSON, Ariz. — Jeff Worthy was in his bedroom in Boise when his phone rang. It was Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Come see me. We need to talk.
By the time Worthy, a sophomore-to-be defensive tackle, returned to his room, he was off the team, his world spinning, one door closing on a promising college football career.
"I didn’t really say anything to anybody for about a day," Worthy said Sunday at the Arizona Wildcats media day.
"I just sat in my room and reflected on what I was doing. I mean, you’re given this opportunity to be a college football player and now you’ve ruined it. I had to really look at myself and who I was becoming. I think that moment is when I decided I needed to turn things around."
After spending last season at Santa Ana College, Worthy is now a junior nose guard for Arizona, all but certain to start when the Wildcats open the season at home Aug. 29 against UNLV. He could end up being the most important player in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, given his talent, age and ability to play right away at a position of need after Tevin Hood graduated.
He’s been in this position before, of wearing great expectations.
Worthy was one of the top prizes in Boise State’s 2011 recruiting class, a four-star recruit out of Whittier Christian High School in La Habra, Calif., who turned down offers from UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State and Nebraska, among others.
"I was an 18-year-old know-it-all," Worthy said.
Arizona nose guard Jeff Worthy on his life-changing dismissal from Boise State: ‘I was an 18-year-old know-it-all. I thought I was the best player out there. And I was just an idiot. Plain and simple.’
"I thought I was the best player out there. And I was just an idiot. Plain and simple. I was an idiot. Just doing the wrong thing."
Worthy redshirted in 2011, was suspended for most of the 2012 season, was reinstated in early February 2013 … and then almost immediately after that he got thecall. Two days after announcing Worthy was back on the team, Petersen said the defensive tackle had been dismissed.
"The person I was then is not the person I am today," Worthy said.
"I needed to be a better person and do the right things and stop worrying about the parties and the girls and all that crap. That stuff doesn’t matter, in retrospect, compared to this. This is my priority. Football is my priority.
"I love football to death, and I want to do it for as long as I can. That moment in my bedroom at Boise was a defining moment."
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who loves to boost his roster with hungry second-chance players, liked what he saw from Worthy last season at Santa Ana College. Not only Worthy’s playing ability, but his "hard edge" — a temperament always preached around RichRod’s program.
"I liked when we talked to him, because you could tell he loved football and he was a little bit ticked," Rodriguez said. "And he’s a misfit. He fits right in with us."
For whoever he was at Boise State, Worthy (6-2, 287) now projects the aura of a deadly serious football player. It seems appropriate that he has gone from me-first behavior to nose guard, the most unheralded position on Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense, living in a world of constant double teams with a primary goal of keeping blockers off his linebackers.
"You have to be the most selfless guy out there," said Worthy, who hogged the spotlight as a three-technique defensive tackle in high school, with 29 sacks in his final two seasons.
"I know my place. There’s really no glory in it, but I do it because I love it. And I like to hit."
Rodriguez said he likes Worthy’s strength and how he uses his hands to get off blocks. Worthy looks back at what Hood did last year in the middle of the line and proclaims that he needs to get stronger.
"That man was strong," Worthy said of Hood.
"If I can get up to what he bench presses and squats, I think I can be just as good, because my technique is there. My footwork is there. Leverage is there. My hands are getting there. … I need to get my strength up. It’s not low by any means, it just needs to go up."
Three years after being a hot-shot freshman at Boise State, Worthy is about a week away from playing in his first Division I game, saying the kid he was is far behind in his rear-view mirror.
"I guess I just wanted to make things right, by my family, my friends, my community where I came from. They all look up to me," Worthy said.
"I didn’t want to just quit, go out like that. It’s funny how God worked in my life and got me to this point. I’m in a better situation than I was at a Mountain West school. Now, I’m a Pac-12 starter. I just can’t believe it. It’s crazy."
Perhaps also crazy: He will see Petersen again on Nov. 15, when the Wildcats play host to Washington. Petersen is the first-year head coach of the Huskies.
"I will gladly go and shake his hand and tell him the experience I had at Boise changed my life," Worthy said.
"If I hadn’t gone to Boise, I probably would still be doing the same things I was doing. I wouldn’t have grown up. I’m not a boy anymore. I’m a man."