Growing up in Rock Hill, Justin Worley played on YMCA T-ball, coach pitchand Gra-Y teams before playing football at the University of Tennessee.
Worley, a 2011 Northwestern High School graduate and standout Trojans quarterback who followed his Tennessee career with a stint on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad, will oversee some of the athletic programs where he got his start.
“Being somebody that has done it and has had success at it, hopefully I can encourage others to do the same,” said Worley, 23, recently named sports and fitness director at the Charlotte Avenue YMCA in Rock Hill.
Worley will oversee youth sports programs including T-ball, coach pitch, midget league baseball, slugger ball, Gra-Y football, youth basketball, sports clinics and the fitness room.
Lamar Thompson, branch director the Charlotte Avenue site, said Worley sets an example for children and teens, many of whom have followed his career.
“The reputation he has made for himself is pretty outstanding here in the community,” Thompson said. “We think he’s exactly the type of role model we are looking for when it comes to youth sports and fitness.”
Thompson said Worley “wanted to come back and be a part of the community and give back to kids. I felt like that was outstanding of him to want to come back home, because it all started here.”
Worley, the son of Peyton and Angela Worley of Rock Hill, started his football career in fifth grade with the York Road Elementary Bulldogs, a YMCA Gra-Y team. He played football, basketball and baseball at Rawlinson Road Middle School and in his first two years of high school.
As a Northwestern senior in 2010, Worley earned Gatorade National Player of the Year accolades, the first South Carolina player to earn the honor.
The YMCA is a comfortable place for Worley, whose family has had a membership for most of his life. He was excited by the opportunity.
“To have a first job where I will be managing people and managing a budget, that is huge,” he said. “And it’s familiar, which is nice.”
At Tennessee, Worley earned a degree in sports management with a business minor. He has completed all but one semester of a master’s degree in sports management.
But he wasn’t quite sure where he wanted to end up.
Worley said he knew a lot of people along the way who encouraged him to shoot for the NFL, because “you don’t want to regret not trying.”
But an injury set him back. He suffered a labral tear in his throwing arm in October 2014, which required surgery and a six-month recovery. He was unable to finish his last season at Tennessee.
Still, Worley was picked up by the Bears in November 2015, after being out of the game for more than a year.
When he was cut after three weeks, Worley said he took it as a sign that he should “move on from football.”
“You’re a small part of the whole business picture,” he said about his time with the Bears. “I have no regrets, nothing negative to say about my experience. But when I got cut, it was kind of a sign to me.”
Worley said he came back to Rock Hill and started job hunting earlier this year. He had plenty of contacts. “The more I talked to people, the more I realized that experience was what I needed to gain,” he said.
When he learned about the job opening at the YMCA, it seemed like a good fit, and he interviewed and was offered the job.
Two weeks into his role, Worley said he is enjoying the work and has learned how much effort goes into running an athletic program.
“We have a huge member base, and finding a way to get everybody involved is something that we are striving for,” Worley said. One possibility is a men’s basketball league, he said.
Worley said he isn’t sure where the future might take him. He might eventually want to work on the business end of a professional sports team. Or he might continue his career with the YMCA.
He said he’s not interested in coaching at the college or professional level because he has seen the toll that it takes in terms of time and stress.
And he’s taken to heart one piece of advice from his parents: “Football is a game,” he said. “It’s supposed to be fun. They wanted me to enjoy it.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077