Week in and week out, J.J. Worton proved he could play among Miami's best.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound athlete literally never left the field during his senior season at South Dade High School. Not only did he excel at wide receiver, but he was a force on defense at safety, returned punts and was also was his team's primary kicker and punter.
Worton flew mostly under the radar when it came to recruiting services, but he eventually caught the eye of several schools, including UCF, who have promised him a scholarship. He committed to the Knights last week.
He credits his coach, Greg Dentino, for allowing him to showcase his ability this past season. He earned Dade County Player of the Year honors, a spot on the All-Dade County first team and participated in both the Dade North/South and Dade-Broward All-Star games.
"I didn't have that big of a junior year," Worton said. "We had a coaching staff that was set on playing our seniors. I got playing time, but not nearly as much as I should have. I didn't really shine my junior year like I did my senior year. My senior year, when I was able to be on the field as much as I was, obviously people noticed. Coach Dentino, he's been amazing for me and all the coaching staff now."
In his first year as head coach, Dentino's South Dade team finished with a 10-3 record and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs. Worton went on to reel in 41 receptions for 712 yards and nine touchdowns, putting him in the same category of other elite Miami wide receivers such as Joshua Reese (UCF signee), Ivan McCartney (West Virginia signee) and Michaelee Harris (Louisville signee).
UCF entered the pictured in mid-January.
"Coach David Kelly called me once and it was before I went on an official trip to University of Cincinnati," Worton said. "He said to call him when I got back. He said he really liked me and everything. He wanted to schedule an unofficial visit and that's what we did after signing day."
Worton and his mother visited UCF on Feb. 6.
"We drove up and they showed us the facilities and everything," Worton said. "It was really good. I love the campus. Everything is brand new. They also have five senior receivers leaving next year. That's always a plus."
There are several South Dade/UCF connections too. Former players Darin Baldwin and Dontravious Floyd are currently on the team. Another former South Dade player, Ryan Khawly, was the Knights' long snapper a couple years ago and is currently finishing up school.
"I know all of them," Worton said. "Darin played with my brother and so did Ryan Khawly. Ryan is my brother's best friend. Ryan's dad, Ron Khawly, was one of my dad's best friends growing up as well. He lives around the corner. Ryan always said how much he loved UCF. Coach Ron is good friends with Coach George O'Leary and Coach Kelly and they respect his word about people down here. I guess he mentioned my name and Coach Kelly had heard about me. That's when I guess when Coach Kelly called me and that's when we set things off. O'Leary loved me. I love the atmosphere up there."
Floyd also plays receiver and will be a redshirt freshman this fall.
"I talked to Dontravious about the dorms and how the practices are," Worton said. "He said practice is hell, but that's everywhere you're going to go. He said he loves it. He said, 'You're not going to get any better coaching anywhere else.' The strength program, I see what they've done to Dontravious. I saw how he looked when he left and I saw him now. He weighs more than he did when he left and looks skinnier than he was. They're putting muscle on you and leaning you down at the same time. He looks phenomenal."
Worton spent most of his time during the visit with Coach Kelly.
"He showed me the playbook," Worton said. "It's the same offense we run down here. They either run the pro or the spread, which is the same thing we do at South Dade. Some of the numbering is a little bit different, but it's all relatively the same. Our apples are their oranges up there. It's not going to be that hard. I already caught on. I looked at it. He would call some plays and I would tell them what I had as a route and what my assignment would be. It just takes time to look at the playbook. Once you get the basics down, it's just remembering the name game."
Florida State evaluated Worton as a possible safety in college, but UCF plans to keep him at wide receiver.
"Right now they love me as a receiver and that's what they're bringing me up as, but I told them if anyone were to ever go down you could put me at that spot," Worton said. "It could be kicker, safety or return man. If you need me to return punts I can do that because I'm going to catch the ball and I'm going to get you some yards, whether they be tough ones or I get in the open field."
Usually college kickers don't play other positions, but Worton says he thinks he could handle it.
"People also always told me I should follow my leg instead of my hands as a receiver," he said. "People always said kicker was how I was going to get to college and maybe get to the pros. 10 years of my life was soccer and I've always had a thing for kicking the ball. They just put it down on a tee and it went pretty far. I loved it."
Worton says UCF is getting a player that will put everything on the line to help the team win.
"I'm not going to brag about myself, but I will definitely put my catching ability up against anyone whether it be college, high school or pro," Worton said. "I think I have the best set of hands. If it's coming my way and I can get my fingertips on it, it's not going to touch the floor. Coach Kelly loves that I'm not afraid to go get the ball. If it's across the middle, I'll throw my body to get to the ball. If it's a jump ball, I'm not going to wait for the ball to come down to me. I'm going to jump up there and get it. Coach Kelly says that he loves how I play with a lot of passion. He can see that I love the game."
All of UCF's available 85 scholarships are currently spoken for, so Worton might have to wait until August to get the full ride. His recruitment is similar to that of kicker Jamie Boyle, who wasn't announced with the signing class last year but joined the team later in the summer.
"Right now I'm listed as a greenshirt," Worton explained. "It's like a grayshirt, but instead of waiting until January to be able to sign I can come in and get a scholarship the first day of classes in August. Coach Kelly has only called me once and I'm allowed to call them as many times as I want. They made that very clear because if they do call me they would have to list me as a recruited player. That's why I didn't go on an official visit either.
"I'm also on a reserve list. If someone can't make it academically, like when the final transcripts come out and a spot opens up, then I'll fill that spot. I'm automatically a scholarship player and I sign that day."
However, Worton says he'd probably enroll this summer anyway even if his football scholarship hasn't kicked in yet.
"My family and I have Bright Futures and I have Florida Pre-Paid," Worton said. "We talked to Coach O'Leary and it was our decision that it's probably better if I don't have a scholarship come June. I'd rather use Bright Futures and Florida Pre-Paid for the summer session, so I don't fall behind the other freshmen coming in. We had planned on using that anyway if I didn't get a scholarship."
He also plans to attend as many spring practices as he can.
"I'll be up there during spring break whenever spring practice is, get a playbook and start getting ahead of the game there too," Worton said.
As for UCF, Worton said he loved everything-- the campus, location, the opportunity to play as well as the coaches.
"As a person, I really enjoyed Coach O'Leary," Worton said. "I've heard he's got a dry humor and he's very straight to the point. I've heard great things about him. I've heard people love him, I talked to my girlfriend and her mom is related to Keith Brookings, who plays for the Dallas Cowboys. They talked to him and he said, 'You're not going to find a better coach. Yeah, he's going to be hard and tell you a lot of things to do, but if you listen and do what he says he's not going to point you in the wrong direction.'
"That helped a great deal with my choice. Plus, I know Darin Baldwin and Dontravious Floyd have also told me nothing but great things about O'Leary. Floyd says he loves Coach Kelly. Coach Kelly has been phenomenal to me. He's answered every question and has been truthful about everything. Off the field, he says he'll be my best friend, but on the field he's your worst nightmare.
"Then I also liked how UCF is close to home. My brother goes to Florida and it's right in-between. If I ever wanted to see him, it's only a two-hour drive. If I wanted to come home it's only three hours. It's awesome for my situation."
"Since I've played against them, I know their talent and I couldn't ask for anyone else to play along with me," Worton said. "I know Joshua Reese on a personal level. My ninth grade year he played at South Dade with me and we became good friends. Then he moved to Central and I saw him when we played them this past year. I thought it was funny how we played together in the beginning, we became the top receivers in Miami-Dade, and now we were playing against each other to get to the state championship.
"Jeff Godfrey, you couldn't ask for a better quarterback. He's got the arm and the legs to go with it. Obviously he's got the head because he graduated early and has already enrolled. He knows what he's doing. Then the McCray twins from Southridge. I've known them from the Dade-Broward game. They're really cool. I'm real excited to get into the program already."
Worton has drawn comparisons to fan-favorite Rocky Ross, who was a mainstay in UCF's receiver corps for the last five years. He might even wear Ross' No. 5 jersey.
"Everyone says I remind them of Rocky Ross, but I'm bigger and faster," Worton said. "They said he fit into their offense perfectly and that's where they see me. I can't wait to meet him to see what the hype was all about."
Florida State, Cincinnati, Oregon, USF, Miami, East Carolina and Wyoming were among the schools who also recruited him. He visited the Bearcats in late January and also had an offer from ECU.
"I can see myself being a better part of the UCF program," Worton said. "That's where my heart was. I loved the campus and I could see myself contributing to that program."
Before he gets to UCF, Worton is hoping to put on another 10 pounds. He plans to follow a workout program designed by Coach Khawly and will receive one-on-one instruction from his wide receivers coach at South Dade, who is also the track coach.
"I'm already 6-2, 190 and I'd like to gain 10 pounds before I get there just to have a little bit of an advantage over the other freshmen coming in," Worton said. "It would be nice to be 6-2, almost 6-3 and 200 pounds coming in there. UCF says they love my potential and they love my frame. They say by the time I leave there I could easily be 6-3 and 215 or 220 pounds."
It's been said that Miami players have an unmatched desire to succeed and Worton is no different.
"My goal is the same as any other high school football player," Worton said. "I want to get to the pros and win a national championship. My brother won two national championships with the Florida Gators, so I've got something I need to beat him on. I'm very competitive. If you aim high and shoot short, you're not going to be disappointed.
"I'm very competitive. I've already talked to Coach Kelly and he says he always give the freshmen an opportunity to show what they can do. I'm going to play like it's my last play, every down. My goal is to get playing time my freshman year and I think I will. I might not be the best one out there, but I guarantee you I'm going to be the hardest worker out there."