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Success hasn’t impacted Texas WR Xavier Worthy’s work ethic

After a full offseason with the Longhorns, Worthy should be even better as a sophomore.

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

One could forgive Texas Longhorns sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy for believing that he’s arrived after a breakout freshman season including 62 receptions for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns, all single-season freshman records at Texas, for which Worthy was named consensus Freshman All-American, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and AP Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors, among other sundry recognition.

It was arguably the greatest season by a Longhorns freshman wide receiver, one of the best freshman seasons in school history regardless of position, and merely maintaining that production would put Worthy on the short list of the best wide receivers to ever play at Texas.

So it was fair for a reporter to wonder on Monday whether Sarkisian has to guard against complacency with Worthy, a late addition to the 2021 recruiting class who originally signed with Michigan.

“Total opposite,” Sarkisian responded. “This guy works like he’s got something to prove every day.”

The proof is in the output during practice when the coaches track the Catapult numbers for total yardage run, high-velocity yardage, explosive movements, and top-end speed. Of the 18 wide receivers in preseason camp for the Longhorns, Sarkisian said that Worthy leads in every category.

The Catapult numbers not only cement Worthy’s claim to be the fastest player on the team, no small feat after freshman wide receiver Brenen Thompson posted a personal-best 10.22 100m this spring, but also illustrate Worthy’s dedication to his craft.

“A guy like him could come in and think ‘Oh, I can just get myself ready to go play.’ He came to work from day one and he’s been working at a high level, he’s playing really well,” Sarkisian said.

Along with junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington, Worthy’s work ethic on and off the field helps establish the standards for Brennan Marion’s position group and the rest of the team.

“He and Jordan Whittington really set the tone in that receiver room for what it takes from a work ethic standpoint and not only physically but mentally they both sit in the front row, they both take notes every installation,” Sarkisian said.

The possibility of more consistent quarterback play by itself could help Worthy make a significant leap in his production this season — both Casey Thompson and Hudson Card struggled on shot plays throughout 2021, one of Worthy’s best attributes thanks to his elite speed, with Thompson’s thumb injury sometimes making it physically impossible to drive the ball down the field effectively.

But consider as well that Worthy only went through summer conditioning and preseason camp last season on the Forty Acres and now has an entire offseason spent developing timing and rhythm with Card and Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers, who both received praise from Sarkisian on Monday.

“Both those guys are working their tails off,” Sarkisian said. “Both of them are really coachable and trying to do what we’re asking them to do. Both of them are making some really nice plays, whether it’s a quick game, whether it’s the audibles, whether it’s intermediate throws, whether it’s down the field throws, and I think they’re both playing with a lot of confidence.”

More time in the Texas strength and conditioning program should make Worthy even more difficult to take down in the open field, too. Perhaps generously listed at 160 pounds last season, Worthy is still slight at 163 pounds, but his added strength will complement Worthy’s notable contact courage and more consistently create missed tackles.

Expect more consistent impact plays from Worthy overall — he only caught three passes in his first two games and didn’t score a touchdown until the third game against Rice. Against TCU, he only had one catch for seven yards. In the Iowa State game, Worthy managed just two catches for 22 yards. After Week 6, Worthy did become a more regular threat as the Texas quarterbacks targeted him on 30.4 percent of his routes, resulting in an average of 2.88 yards per route run and 17 catches that went for 15 or more yards. All told, Worthy’s 526 yards after the catch led the Big 12 last season.

Marion’s ability to teach technique, Worthy’s work ethic, improved strength, and greater comfort level in the Texas offense will form a package that has Worthy positioned as one of the three or four best receivers in college football entering the 2022 campaign.

If Whittington can stay healthy and Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor continues proving he’s capable of taking advantage of the jump in competition, defenses will have difficult choices to make about how to slow down the Texas wide receivers, providing more opportunities for each of them.

And that should mean an even better season from Worthy in his second year.