Jan. 5, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
The primary function of a university is to prepare young people to bear the responsibilities they will encounter in the next phase of their lives.
All-America defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said Thursday that thanks to Michigan State, he's more than ready to get a job. Citing his father's health and little more to accomplish at the collegiate level, Worthy indicated he is making himself available for the NFL Draft in April.
He said he made up his mind within seconds after teammate Anthony Rashad White secured the Spartans' 33-30 triple-overtime Outback Bowl victory against Georgia by batting a field-goal attempt to the ground.
"I kind of knew it in my heart that this is right way to go out, on top as a winner," Worthy said with head coach Mark Dantonio sitting by his side in the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center. "I want to go out having a lot of the fans, my friends and my family know that over these last four years I've given all I've got."
It's a positive sign of the times that players who leave school early - although as a fourth-year junior Worthy is in position to graduate in May - are celebrated for getting what they needed out of the college experience instead of having their loyalty called into question.
It never made sense that an engineering major who got a lucrative offer to leave before completing his degree is lauded as a success story for having ambition, but an athlete is seen as self-centered and greedy.
Nevertheless, Stephanie Worthy promised in no uncertain terms that her son, who contrary to reports has not hired an agent and was still in the process of finding one, will complete his degree in family community services degree - sooner rather than later.
"One of my main questions when I've talked to all these agents is what can you do to help my son get his degree?" she said. "I understand football and they talk money, but I still want that degree. A majority of them gave me good feedback as far as getting him that degree while he's training.
"Even if they have to fly him back here to take a few classes, he will get that degree this summer and we'll be happy."
And so it is, while Dantonio is left with a gaping hole in his defensive front four, he couldn't help but acknowledge that this is what successful programs do.
Most of his former players will make a living in the work-a-day world at their chosen professions, and a select number, such as Worthy, Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, will get a chance to make it as professional athletes.
"We tried to make sure we crossed all the t's and dotted the i's to make sure this was real," Dantonio said. "I don't think there's any question that he's going to make an NFL team. What we wanted to do is make sure the dollars were there on the front end."
Although Worthy came to MSU from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne High School with a motivation-level reflected by his blue-chip credentials, he became even more driven toward this eventuality after his father, Bobby Smith, suffered a stroke in the winter of 2010.
Worthy said his father, who suffers paralysis on his left side, lacks the means to pay for adequate rehabilitative care, and because of his relatively young age, has had disability claims under Medicare repeatedly rejected, according to Stephanie Worthy. Whatever treatment Smith has gotten has been paid for by family.
"I vowed to myself, as well as my father, that I would strive to do the best by him and my mother, and give them the proper health services they need," Worthy said. "My father is dealing with a lot of issues and one thing I want to try to do is helping him out and getting him back to being my father and the person I've grown to know.
"He's not getting the therapy to make as fast of a recovery as I would like. Coach D understands my family is near and dear to my heart as well as this Spartan family, and he knows it's my obligation to do whatever's required for my family, and that's what led to this decision."
Dantonio did his due diligence over the past two weeks to make sure Worthy was making a decision that is accompanied by a high probability of being drafted in the first round and the lucrative signing bonus not afforded those selected later in the process.
After the NFL Draft Advisory Board gave Worthy an affirming grade, and Dantonio talked to a handful of general managers he knows personally, he supplied his endorsement and blessing.
"It's a very difficult thing to do, for a young person, but I think he's done it with dignity and with class," Dantonio said. "He didn't detract from his teammates or the (bowl) by doing it at the game. He waited until the appropriate time.
"My job here as the football coach is obviously to win football games, but it's also to help players grow not only in the classroom and on the field, but socially. When you have an opportunity like this, it's very difficult to pass up because of the financial situation you would be in."
The only thing missing from Worthy's resume is a Rose Bowl, which will remain at the top of MSU's of goals next season, but is by no means guaranteed. He pointed out he was on a team that beat Michigan four-straight times, won a Big Ten Championship, logged back-to-back 11-win records, was the first in league history to capture a division title, played in the league's inaugural championship game and ended a five-bowl losing streak.
In Worthy, one of the most gregarious athletes ever to wear the Green and White, the NFL will get someone "you can coach hard and he'll bounce back, he won't pout," Dantonio said. "We will miss him tremendously, we'll miss his smile around the building, we'll miss his work ethic, we'll miss his opportunity to lead as a senior and we'll miss his play on the field.
"But in the end, we want to do what's best for the players. Sometimes it's just about timing, and at this point in time in this young person's life, this was the time he wanted to take to move onto his next challenge."
Dantonio joked that Worthy also has to help him find a comparable replacement at defensive tackle.
The Spartans are losing two other interior defensive linemen, Kevin Pickelman and Johnathan Strayhorn, as well, but the cupboard isn't bare. Five true freshmen and a sophomore who are already in the pipeline - Joel Heath, Matt Ramando, Damon Knox, Mark Scarpinato, Brandon Clemons and James Kittredge, respectively - will get the chance to make their move up the depth chart behind White and Micajah Reynolds.
"There's an opportunity to play and we may take a JC guy to fill that void because we are young, but we'll see how it all shakes out as we go," Dantonio said. "We hate to lose a guy like Jerel because you're losing one of your best players. When you're losing a first-round draft pick, those are hard to substitute for.
"But, given the circumstances and everything that's involved, like I said, you want the best for your players."