Playing catch up wth the backup|Wornick learning to live the life of a backup QB

Published 6:39 pm Sunday, September 26, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – Last year Brad Wornick couldn’t get recognized if he was wearing a name tag. This year he is one snap away from taking control of the prolific, new-look Pirates’ offense and you can bet no Purple-and-Gold supporter would need a program guide to tell you who No. 9 is when he checks in behind center.
The last year has been a wild one for the Charlotte native. In 2009 the redshirt freshman walk-on spent the entire season on the scout team buried on the QB depth chart far behind starter Patrick Pinkney, and backups Josh Jordan and Rio Johnson under the Skip Holtz regime.
Heading into the spring game most fans, and media alike, figured it would be Jordan, a sophomore who was the No. 2 guy under Holtz, that would give highly touted JUCO transfer Dominique Davis the best fight for the starting QB job. However, the kid from out of nowhere was seemingly everywhere, and with Davis not officially enrolled at ECU until the summer, Wornick’s stock soared like a Petyon Manning spiral.
The 6-2, 205-pound underdog made the most of his snaps during the spring and emerged from the Purple and Gold game on top of first-year coach Ruffin McNeill’s depth chart.
Fast forward to the summer. Josh Jordan is now catching passes instead of throwing them. Redshirt freshman Rio Johnson is lagging behind in the three-man battle for starting signal-caller behind the former scout team QB, who has some how kept pace with the chiseled 6-4, 215-pound prized transfer Davis.
The closer it got to the Sept. 5 season opener against Tulsa, the more heated the race appeared. Johnson was officially cast aside as the Davis-Wornick battle went down to the wire.
However, in the end the underdog’s story never went full-Disney; at least not yet anyway. The last man standing was Davis, who simply offered something that the sophomore Wornick could not give: experience.
“Dominique did a lot of good things for us, and Brad did too, but I would say the difference was maturity and leadership,” first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “I felt like when Dominique got here he felt like this was his offense and he treated it that way.
“I think Brad gradually more and more did it, but it wasn’t to the extent that Dominique did it. It was the maturity, and especially the leadership aspect, of being that guy that controls the guys and knows when to rip them and get them going and when to calm them down. You have to have confidence to be a leader. I think his grew and grew but it wasn’t quite at the level Dominique’s was.”
Davis’s leadership skills were honed at Boston College where in 2008 the redshirt freshman started the last three games of the season, which included the ACC championship game, before transferring to Fort Scott Community College where he took his team to the JUCO national title game in 2009.
You can’t teach that at practice.
“I wouldn’t say its about pedigree, but it’s about experience,” Riley said. “He’s controlled a huddle before and you can tell that. … But for Brad, I mean nobody expected him to do what he did. Nobody even knew his name before we got here. For him to make that rise is incredibly impressive.”
Despite the astonishing ascension, Wornick felt the same sting in his chest that anybody who has ever been passed up for a promotion gets upon hearing the bad news.
“They let us know about a week before the game. They just told us one at a time,” Wornick said. “They brought Dominique in first and then called me in. They told me that they were going to go with Dominique and to keep my mind right. That I would probably get a shot at some point this year. It could come sooner, it could come later.
“That’s how I’m looking at it. At some point I’ll get my shot and when I do I’m going to make the most of it.”
Riley said the sophomore handled the news with class, and though he wasn’t handed a starting job, he was given something else that many would consider more valuable.
“He was down at first. He was disappointed. I mean you never want a guy to be disappointed, but you do want a guy to be disappointed because it means he wants it,” Riley said. “But we also put him on scholarship. That was a huge thing for him and his family. It was a pretty special deal, Coach Ruff did it in front of the whole team.”
The former walk-on had a big summer. He fought his way past two favored challengers before falling just short of topping the third, while scoring significant spot on the team along with a scholarship. However, his next challenge may be a little tougher as he has to, as Riley put it, “Learn the life of a backup quarterback.”
Ever go to work and take mental rep?
You know, watch the guy who is doing the job you want to do and pretend that it’s you … every day … and then again later in a film room.
Welcome to Wornick’s world.
“Yeah I take a lot of mental reps. When everybody else is standing on the sideline I’m typically 10 yards back from the quarterback watching him play,” Wornick said. “I’m seeing what he calls, what he checks and seeing if he made a good read. Sometimes I’ll even critique him. I’ll tell him that he either made a good throw or a bad throw, or what he should have done. We have a good relationship; you just have to do what you got to do.”
While taking mental reps may not sound like the most thrilling task in the world, it’s even tougher when the teacher knows when the class isn’t paying attention.
“You can tell when a person isn’t (doing it) because you can tell by his performance when he isn’t getting a lot of reps,” Riley said. “He is (doing it), and he’s got to do it in the film room. Seventy-five percent or more it’s Dominique (taking the reps) so he has got to put himself in that position: ‘What would I have done?’ He’s just got to do a lot of things mentally to stay up to par and be ready when his time comes.”
For his part Wornick has done what he has been asked to do. As far as his confidence is concerned, just like his game, it is growing every day.
“I feel like when I do get in there and get that shot I’m going to take it and run with it,” Wornick said. “The fans shouldn’t expect anything less when I get in there. I should be held to the same expectations that the offense has right now. I expect the offense to continue to move when I’m in there.”