Wednesday, September 15, 2004
By Becky Hopf
UofA Media Relations
Cornelius Wortham is repeating his senior year but it has nothing to do with his class work. Wortham is as big a star in the classroom as he is on the Crimson Tide's football field. After all, this is a man who already has his degree and is an Academic All-Southeastern Conference award winner. The 6-foot-1 middle linebacker is back by accident, that in the literal sense. Last August he broke his left elbow in practice, an unwelcome break that ended up side-lining the returning starter for the season.
Sitting out the eve of your future can come with its frustrations, and Wortham says it was a tough year for him. He was forced to watch the 2003 season--what was to be HIS year---entirely from the sidelines. But Wortham embodies yet another example of the spirit of the men who make up this Alabama football program. He dusted his disappointment and plunged into hope. He spent the time on the sidelines as a student of the game. And, as his elbow healed, he worked on his own game. He lifted weights. He made himself an even better version of an already great model.
One year ago, would you have ever believed that you would be back here, on the practice field, awaiting the start of your senior season---again?
"No. A year ago, even when I got hurt, I thought I'd be back in three weeks. I thought I'd be out of here in December or January. Now it's August 25, 2004, and I'm back on the practice field. But it feels good to be back."
What was your mindset then, heading into your senior year, a 10-game starter from the 2002 season?
"I had the mindset that I was going to go out there and be a leader, help the team any way I could. At that point we had lost Brooks Daniels. Coach (Mike Shula) had asked everyone to pick up their game, and I was in that mindset to do whatever I had to do to help the team. And then on August 14, 2003, all that changed."
Has it been an impossibly long wait since the injury happened before the first game was even played?
"Yes. I had a long wait. I could not wait until spring practice to get back out there and compete. And then we had the summer. The summer went by fast. And then camp came. I think I had a great fall camp. I still think I have a lot to improve on, so I'm going out day to day and trying to get better so I can finally help the team.
"For me it's been like, you lock a lion in a cage and don't feed him for a period. I'm hungry. I'm ready. I'm hungry for a win and I'm hungry to hit another opponent."
Do you recall the moment vividly when you were injured?
"I do. As a matter of fact, this year, on August 14, the anniversary of when I got hurt, we happened to be in the same spot. I was kind of nervous on that day because I knew that it marked one year that I'd had my first major injury. I had the mindset that it couldn't happen again. I knew God was going to pull me through. And I kept focusing throughout the day, but it was always back there on my mind. At the end of the day, I called my mom and I told her I made it through my `D-Day.'"
What was the darkest point in your recovery?
"When it got to the point where I knew that I wasn't coming back that season, as the months passed and it started getting weaker and weaker. I saw the hurt in my teammates and what they were going through on the field. It was a different hurt for me. I wanted to be out on the field with them. I think the hardest part was knowing there was nothing I could do. I'm not saying that things would have happened differently for the team last year if I'd been out there. But we all believe that individually we come together to make a good whole. I wanted to be out there with them. I wanted to be out there and battle with my teammates, not watch them go to battle without me."
What did you miss the most?
"I think it would be the Tennessee game. I couldn't even go to the stadium. There was a point that it hurt me inside every time I saw them put on the Crimson. It was during recruiting in December the first time I went in the locker room since my injury, and tears came to my eyes when I saw the jersey locked up. It made me realize how much I had missed playing football. I had got to a point where it was hard for me to come back. I had never had a major injury before. I had thought about giving it up. But my feelings were so strong. I prayed to God, and He put me back on the right track."
What are the plusses, the good, about coming back for an encore senior season?
"Being around the people I love. The team, the staff, the media, the following, the fans. I love Tuscaloosa. I could hardly live anywhere else."
Physically, how do you compare to this time a year ago?
"My elbow is fine. I'm stronger. But I think the biggest point about me now is my mind is a lot stronger. I handled my injury kind of immaturely. My coaches can vouch for that. I'm a `mama's baby,' and when you're that, you always want things to go your way. I'd had a pattern of that. But I think the injury made me more mature. I saw the error of my ways."
You hold the linebacker record for bench press at 480 pounds. How strong are you now, post-injury?
"I don't really know. With Coach (Kent) Johnston, we're doing a lot of speed work. I do know I feel a lot stronger than I was before my injury."
You graduated from the University in May 2004. Is it good to have that pressure behind you?
"My mom is a teacher, and she's had a lot of influence on me as far as school. I have my degree in general studies, but, because of her, I have myself taking some challenging classes in working toward this second degree. I think if you get some challenging classes, it keeps your mind in line and it also keeps you focused. You don't play your time away. I'm always a serious person, so I take my school seriously."
We know you want to play in the NFL---but could Nashville loom? I hear you play a mean steel guitar.
"I play it all the time, the guitar and the drums. My father played the steel guitar, and I love listening to country music. It kind of soothes me from stress. I'm a Pentecostal so I play it at my church. Sometimes when we have big get-togethers back home with different churches, I'll play then.
"I'm a country music fan and Bobby Seymour is my favorite. In fact, I know him on a personal basis. That's who I bought my steel guitar from. He's out of Nashville."
What's the best country music song on a steel guitar?
"Anything. I like them all. I like Shania Twain's `It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing,' songs like that.
"My favorite song to play is a gospel song, `Jesus is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.
"I've thought a little bit about going into music. I thought about going to music school and learning country because that's what I always wanted to do along with playing with the pedals. Right now I don't play with the pedals, I just play straight."
Come December or January, this time, where do you hope to be?
"This will definitely be the last year here for me. And I want to end it by playing my last game of college football in January in Miami, in the Orange Bowl. And I would like to take on the Miami Hurricanes. That would be a great sendoff, my dream ending."