Football – Worthy Primed for Gridiron Grand Finale to Cap Career
Ashante Worthy is confident in his status as one of the best football players in New Jersey and after two record-setting seasons at Freehold Boro High School in 2016 and 2017, why wouldn’t he be?
More noteworthy is his equal confidence in the abilities of his peers, which explains Worthy's assessment of the roster that will represent Monmouth County in Thursday’s 41st Annual All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Brick Memorial High School.
“I think this might be the best Monmouth County team that they have had,” Worthy said.
It’s not an unusual thing for a senior to say about a collection of All-Stars of which he is a part of, but when that collection includes the most dynamic player to pass through Monmouth County since Knowshon Moreno by many accounts, the statement carries more weight.
While Worthy prefers to pay compliments to his week-long teammates, most of them were even quicker to praise him. All of them have seen the numbers: a single-season state record 2,815 rushing yards, the first player to ever both throw and rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and a single-game record of 635 total yards. Many others have lined up against him. Now, the rest of the Monmouth County all-stars and coaches get to see him work up close before playing on his team on Thursday.
“After playing against him twice I knew how good he was,” said Long Branch head coach Dan George, who is heading up the Monmouth County staff this week. “Then when you’re sitting there coaching him for every rep, you get a different feel for it. He brings great leadership. The kids obviously respect him. As a quarterback, he commands great respect in the huddle. He has great vision and he is able to pick this offense up pretty well. Plus, his attitude is phenomenal.”
“He still gives the same energy and effort that you see in the game and he still does what he does: run people over, shake people,” Long Branch quarterback Juwan Wilkins said. “Whatever you try to do, he has an answer. He is amazing. Period.”
The praise coming from the Long Branch side is especially meaningful considering the Green Wave faced Worthy three times over the past two seasons, including twice in 2017. The second meeting of the two was in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game, which Long Branch won, 43-42, in overtime on a two-point conversion on the game’s final play.
That win came after Worthy had torched the Green Wave in the prior two meetings.
“They beat us,” Worthy said. “We can’t go back and change what happened. They got it and now we’re all on the same team. You can’t be beefing if you are all on the same team.
“Those are my guys. You don’t ever see them get down. They are always upbeat, they have good vibes – never negative. They can keep a smile on everybody’s face and that’s the best part about it.”
Worthy will be working at quarterback along with Wilkins and Keansburg’s Danny Vital while Monmouth also boasts Howell’s dynamic signal-caller, Eddie Morales. While Morales is listed as a defensive back for the game, there is a change the offense could feature Worthy and Morales on the field at the same time – perhaps even with neither at quarterback.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it happened only two weeks ago at the North-South All-Star game. Worthy accounted for 96 total yards and two touchdowns in a South win over North Jersey while Morales lined up at receiver and caught a 35-yard touchdown despite almost no experience at the position.
“We were in the same backfield in the All-State game,” Worthy said. “I caught two (touchdowns) and he caught one and it was just fun. It’s hard to stop both of us.”
“They’re running backs as well as quarterbacks,” George said. “If anything, the modern game has taught kids to be both. It’s not anywhere outside the realm of possibility for them to be in the backfield at the same time. They put a tremendous about of pressure on defenses and it’s where the offense has gone – you’re taking kids and you’re moving them around and you’re leaving people unblocked and making them make a decision.”
Thursday will be a chance not only for many around the of the Shore to get their first first-hand look at Worthy, but also for Worthy to cap one of the most remarkable careers the state has ever seen. In addition to breaking the single-season rushing record and single-game combined yardage record, he also scored 41 touchdowns in 2017 – the second highest total in state history behind Manalapan senior running back Naim Mayfield, who scored 46 this year.
Worthy’s 61 combined touchdowns between rushing and passing shattered the previous state record of 55 and he also boasted a 70-percent completion percentage to go with his 2,106 and 20 touchdown tosses. Going back to 2016, he set the Shore’s single-season record – previously-held by Manalapan's John Sieczkowski – with 465 rushing yards in a state playoff win over Pennsville. Worthy also accounted for 10 touchdowns in the game – eight rushing and two passing.
“I look back every day like ‘Man, if I only had one more season,’” Worthy said. “But it was a very great experience. Freehold Boro taught me a lot. Coach Dave Ellis taught me a lot. They taught me what I know now. If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
For the many who will watch Worthy for the first time on Thursday, those numbers will come to life in the form of the lightning-quick cuts, unforgiving stiff-arms, a few pinpoint passes and breakaway speed. For the Monmouth players whose teams Worthy has tormented over the past two seasons, it is a chance to not only appreciate his ability but to revel in it.
“It shows I have some of the best talent in Jersey, just like the rest of these guys,” Worthy said of closing out his high school career with an all-star appearance. “I participated in the All-State game, which was a very good experience. The three days, the two-a-days – it just gets you ready for the next level. Practice has been fun, I just can’t wait to suit up on Thursday.”