Three years ago, Northwestern High football coach Jimmy Wallace remembers throwing footballs with an eighth-grade quarterback named Justin Worley.
Worley was 6-foot-3 then, with great form.
“You could just tell he was going to be special,” said Wallace, whose 5-0 team meets 5-0 South Pointe at Rock Hill's District 3 Stadium tonight. “You could see he had unlimited potential. You could just tell it.”
Worley played on the Trojans' junior varsity last season while Will King, who signed with Furman, set school records with 3,395 yards passing and 41 touchdowns.
Worley was happy to wait his turn.
“I've always been a quarterback growing up because I was one of the tallest kids in my age group,” Worley told the Herald of Rock Hill. “Being a quarterback, you want to get to high school and pass the ball. I'm happy playing in our offense, and I was ready to take over this year.”
In his first game, Worley threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns – and he hasn't let up. Running what Northwestern assistant coach Kyle Richardson calls the “Air Raid” offense, Worley has thrown for 1,403 yards and 20 touchdowns – on pace to limit King's run atop the school record books to one year.
And Worley is just one of several Observer-area quarterbacks off to great starts. Players from Butler, Charlotte Christian, Independence and Olympic – only one of them a senior – have been impressive so far (read more about them inside).
“You expect to have a few QBs in Charlotte doing well,” said Chester (S.C.) High coach Maurice Flowers. “But we've got a few in South Carolina now, too.”
Flowers, who joined Chester after resigning from West Charlotte last spring, said he was a little surprised about the play of S.C. quarterbacks.
For years, while he coached in Charlotte, he had always understood that S.C. high school football was all about the running game. Times have changed.
“It seems like everywhere I look,” Flowers said. “S.C. teams are beginning to pass.”
The S.C. quarterback class of 2011 looks particularly strong.
It includes Flowers' 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore Tony McNeill, who has thrown for 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns in five games. It includes Myrtle Beach sophomore Everett Golson, who has 865 yards and 12 touchdowns this season – and threw for 2,500 yards and 32 touchdowns as a freshman.
And that 2011 class includes Woodland's 6-4, 190-pound Robert Smith, who threw for 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns last year.
Jim Baxter, who runs the S.C. Varsity recruiting Web site, saysWorley can be as good as any of them.
“His frame, at 6-5, makes him attractive to the pocket-passing offensive minds,” Baxter said. “He's not going to [hurt] you with his runs. I like his arm strength and the touch he has on the football. He makes it easy for his receivers to be successful. Right now, (Coach) Wallace is giving the young man a chance to be successful, with high percentage passes. The thing that impresses me is that he protects the ball well and doesn't force bad passes.”
Tonight will be Worley's biggest test. South Pointe is ranked No.2 in the Observer's Sweet16 and is ranked in a few national polls. The Stallions, who have allowed 26 points and 254 passing yards all year, have two five-star recruits in the defensive backfield: Stephon Gilmore and former Independence star DeVonte Holloman, who also has three punt returns for touchdowns and one interception return for a score.
Wallace thinks his star is ready.
“He's a very mature 10th-grader and (assistant) coach Richardson has done an incredible job coaching him. Justin's a three-sport athlete (baseball, basketball, football) with more than a 4.0 GPA. He's just a great kid from a great family. He has a passion for the game. He wants to be good and I think he's going to be one of the best I've ever coached.”