Justin Worley, Gatorade's 2011 National Football Player of the Year, has set the bar high for himself going forward from a standout high school career.
After his 2010 season at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., was in the books, Worley left as the state's all-time record-holder for career passing yards and touchdowns, received player of the year honors from Rivals and ESPN RISE, and was named as a first-teamer on multiple All-America rosters.
Oh, and he led the Titans to an undefeated season that ended with a victory in the Class 4A State Championship.
But in talking with Worley around the Gatorade Athlete of the Year ceremony in Hollywood this week, Bleacher Report's Jack Harver got the sense that the incoming Tennessee freshman is ready for even bigger challenges going forward.
In sharing a dinner table with Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions Tuesday night and sweating on an exercise bike for scientists from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute Wednesday afternoon, Worley had a pro-caliber West Coast experience to underline his transition from high school to a bigger national stage.
Jack Harver: It's been one heck of a year for top talent in Rock Hill [S.C.] between you and [freshman South Carolina defensive end] Jadeveon Clowney.
He won Mr. Football, but you won this year's rivalry game and now the National Player of the Year Award from Gatorade. What has it been like to be matched up with him?
Justin Worley: It's been great. He's brought some great competition.
We've played five times in three years, so we're familiar with each other. We were actually on the same All-Star team when we were younger, so we've always played with and against each other.
We've split games back and forth. He's hit me a couple of good times; we've won a couple of games, they won a couple games. It's been great.
JH: Speaking of top athletes pushing each other, let's talk about this testing you've gone through with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans and Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers—a quarterback and a defensive end, like you and Clowney—were working with GSSI back at Super Bowl XLIII in Dallas and before the NFL draft in New York.
Is this comparable to anything you've been doing in Knoxville?
JW: We have a BOD POD at Tennessee, but I've never done anything like these other tests before. [Going for] 20 minutes riding on a bike and only breathing out of your mouth isn't a lot of fun, but that wasn't too bad.
I thought [the reflex test] was the hardest one. I felt like I was doing pretty badly, but the scientists told me it was average. You've got to have pretty quick hands for that one.
JH: You seemed level-headed enough during it. Then again, I reckon reacting to buttons and lights seems simple compared to some of the footage Gatorade showed of you moving in the pocket against Jadeveon Clowney.
Back to the BOD POD, what'd it say about your body composition?
JW: My body fat went down since the last time I was tested.
JH: Is that something you'd targeted since then?
JW: I've fluctuated a lot in tests at Tennessee. They actually want me a little higher, body fat-wise, than where I'm testing now to take the edge off hits from defenders.
JH: Well, that's not the worst thing in the world. I reckon you'll get to chow down going forward.
JW: [laughs] Yeah, definitely.
JH: How about your workouts at the college level? What have the Vols' practices been like, compared to what you used to do in the offseason at Northwestern High School?
JW: They're way more intense. Coach Mac [strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery] at Tennessee is doing great things. We're pushing each other hard every day—running, lifting and preparing to face the best of the best in the SEC.
JH: When you go back and tell folks from Rock Hill [S.C.] and Knoxville about this testing process, what's the biggest lesson you've learned that you'll pass along to them?
JW: Definitely how hydration can help your performance, and how what you do before and after working out or practicing or games can affect your performance.
JH: Today, you're in your workout clothes. Last night you had a suit on, you got to eat dinner with Matthew Stafford while your high school highlights played on a big screen.
In working with Gatorade, you're following in the footsteps of guys like Jake Locker and Cameron Heyward. How has this whole Hollywood experience from Gatorade felt for you?
JW: It's a blessing. I would've never imagined that I'd be in this spot when I was in ninth or 10th grade.
It's been kind of a vacation for me from [summer] school [at Tennessee] to come out here, go to the ESPYs and be around some of the other Athlete of the Year nominees. Just an awesome experience.