Here’s how it often works when you’re a young football star in high school: You can do just about anything and play just about anywhere. You’re that good, that much faster and stronger and more athletic than most of the kids you’re playing with and against. That’s how it worked for Daryl Worley, the Eagles’ new cornerback, at Penn Charter. There, he played wide receiver and defensive back, and he was an all-Inter-Ac League selection for both, in part because he was 6-foot-1 and had sprinter speed (he won 12 gold medals in the league's track championships) and down-soft hands.
“For us, he was an athlete,” Jeff Humble, Worley’s head coach at Penn Charter, said Thursday in a phone interview. “The next-level part kind of took care of itself.”
Here’s how it often works when you’re a young football star who has just joined a Division I program: All your teammates were young football stars in high school, too, which means there will be competition at your position – and at every other position – that you have never experienced before, which means you might need to make a choice. That’s how it worked for Worley at West Virginia. He went there to play wide receiver, but the receivers’ room already was loaded with talented players, among them Kevin White and Mario Alford, both of whom were selected in the 2015 NFL draft, White in the first round.
So Lonnie Galloway, then the Mountaineers’ wide-receivers coach, pulled Worley aside for a chat.
“We were a little down at defensive back,” Galloway, now coaching at Louisville, said by phone. “I knew Daryl had played some corner in high school, and I knew they [the defense’s coaches] wanted him. It was one of those things — I was like, ‘Look, man, you want to get to the NFL? I’d look at it as you’re a long, tall, athletic corner. It would be a situation where you can get on the field. That might not be a bad thing. That’s what teams like: long, athletic corners.’ ”
That was not an easy or particularly desirable situation for Worley, and you can trace his reaction to it and his resulting success straight to the reasons that the Eagles acquired him for Torrey Smith in a trade with the Carolina Panthers earlier this month. Remember: West Virginia recruited Worley as a wide receiver. Now the coaches were asking him – perhaps “subtly demanding” is the better way to put it – to do something he had never done before: to focus on one position, and not even the position they had pretty much promised that he would play.
It would have been reasonable for Worley to resent Galloway for the recommendation. He hadn’t played a single snap in a game yet. How could the coaching staff know he’d be better off as a defensive back? But he agreed to change positions anyway. He was happy to do it.
“It was kind of a transformation, me playing defensive back and taking it 100 percent serious,” said Worley, who grew up in North Philadelphia. “I’m not the overly sized guy. I was going to be a middle-sized receiver coming in. I mean, we had a lot of great receivers coming out of there at that time. … We had a lot going on. I was looking for anything, as a young freshman, just to be able to get on the field.”
By the end of his junior season, Worley had developed into a member of the all-Big 12 first team, coming so far as a cornerback that he didn’t return for his senior season, choosing instead to enter the 2016 NFL draft, where the Panthers picked him in the third round. He admitted this week that his overall performance last season, playing mostly on the outside, was inconsistent. But he’s still just 23, and during his introductory news conference Monday, he said he was willing to line up wherever the Eagles might need him: on the outside, in the slot, at safety.
It’s no secret that the Eagles, in recent years, have placed a high value on acquiring and, when possible, keeping high-character veterans. From his first days at West Virginia to his first public event as a member of the NFL team he rooted for as a kid, Worley seems to possess exactly the qualities that the Eagles have been seeking in the men who make up their roster.
“That makes total sense,” Worley’s high school coach said. “He’s a competitor, and he really wants to do what’s best for the team.”
What his role will be remains to be seen. The Eagles have a surplus of young cornerbacks under contract: Worley, Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas. It’s a happy problem. And this time Daryl Worley won’t be asked to move back to wide receiver, though he’d probably do it if he were. Which, of course, is part of the reason the Eagles wanted him here in the first place.