Coaches and scouts were awakened to Chris Wormley’s talent during his breakout sophomore campaign in which he tallied 59 tackles and 12 sacks. (Allen Trieu/Scout.com)
Ohio has a well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of high school football talent, but 2012 is slated to be an exceptional year even by that state's lofty standards. Eight Ohio juniors have earned recognition in Scout.com's early ranking of the top 100 juniors in the country, and that number could grow even larger in the coming months.
One of the first youngsters to make the initial cut was Toledo Whitmer defensive end Chris Wormley. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder could be ranked the highest of all the Buckeye State prospects when the dust settles -- a possibility he could hardly envision a few short years ago.
"I thought I was just an average kid playing football my freshman year," Wormley told Scout.com. "This whole experience is eye-opening for me."
Coaches and scouts were awakened to Wormley's talent during his breakout sophomore campaign in which he tallied 59 tackles and 12 sacks. Despite opponents focusing additional attention in his direction this season, he has picked up right where he left off last year. Thus far he has 40 tackles and seven sacks (unofficially). Simply put, at times Wormley is a man amongst boys on the field.
"He's a big-bodied kid who gets off the ball pretty well and is a good overall athlete for his size," said Scout.com Midwest Regional Manager Allen Trieu. "I think with his frame and growth potential, he'll be more of a strongside defensive end or five technique or defensive tackle in college. He's not your long, lean, wiry edge rusher like his teammate (Ohio State commitment) Kenny Hayes, but he can project to a couple different spots in a couple different systems."
On his trail
Colleges from across the country are now in hot pursuit of the Whitmer star. Many of them extended offers before the start of his junior season.
"Cincinnati was the first one last year," Wormley reported. "Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Toledo. I think Texas A&M, too."
As pleasing as the news of each scholarship was, Wormley was admittedly more taken aback by the two he received most recently. Ohio State threw its hat in the ring in late September, while childhood favorite Michigan joined the club just last weekend. The traditional rivals now share an enviable place on the talented youngster's list.
"It is Michigan and Ohio State at the top," stated Wormley matter-of-factly. "I don't really have them one-two right now, but they are definitely at the top."
At this early stage in his recruitment Wormley remains wide open to overtures from any schools. However, it is abundantly clear the Wolverines and Buckeyes have a few built-in advantages that will make them major players in his recruitment until the very end.
Ohio State has on its side Kenny Hayes' persistent recruiting pitch and its staff's strong rapport with Wormley thanks to his frequent visits to Columbus.
"It's just the tradition they have and the great coaching staff," stated Wormley regarding why he holds the Buckeyes in such high esteem. "Coach Jim Tressel, the defensive coordinator, and the D-line coach -- they are just great coaches and I like how they play and how they coach.
"(Kenny Hayes talks up the Buckeyes) pretty much every day on Facebook, texting in class, and walking through the halls in school. Even his parents are always texting me that Michigan lost and stuff. They say, 'Go to Ohio State because they're always winning.' But it's a friendly thing."
Countering that influence has been the job of a strong group of Michigan advocates that make up Wormley's inner circle.
"My mom is a big Michigan fan," he said. My brother and sister (are Michigan fans). My dad has always been a Michigan fan. My girlfriend and her parents are probably bigger fans than we are. A lot of my friends are Michigan fans also. They were all excited when I got the offer (last weekend). Everyone was texting me and sending me stuff on Facebook. My mom gave me a big hug when I got home and she was proud of me. It was just a good thing for me to get the offer and everyone was happy for me."
Mom happy either way
The input from both sides of the rivalry will surely continue. The consistent theme for those that truly care about this elite prospect is that they are Chris Wormley fans first.
"Most the people we're around in these parts are either Ohio State or Michigan," said Wormley's mother Julie. "It is just a huge thing. I think those influences are nice, but neither one of them are negative. It is all good to him. In the end it is going to come down to what's best for him. No matter where he goes, I will be that school's biggest fan."
Mom's view of each program will play a pivotal role in the decision-making process. She has already formed very positive impressions of both Michigan and Ohio State after taking in the game day experience at both.
"The campus and the stadium at Michigan are beautiful," Ms. Wormley said. "It is what I think any kid that dreams of playing at the college level would dream of. It is gorgeous. It is a quaint town, which we really, really like. And then the coaches -- Rich Rodriguez took time and came down to speak with us (before the Connecticut game). We walked in probably 45 minutes later than all the other boys, and when we did all the attention immediately came on Christopher. The coaches came and it was very nice. Then Rich Rodriguez came over and he was very nice. I could tell that he was anxious to get on with the game, but he took that time to come and specifically point to Christopher and talk with us. That was huge."
"At Ohio State they were amazing also. We have met a lot more of the staff down at Ohio State. They made Christopher feel so welcome and so wanted. He gets personal letters from them every week before every game -- hand written. He gets emails. They've been amazing too. There is not a negative thing I could say about them. They are very, very strong coaches that are very considerate and very nice."
There are a host of other criteria that will weigh heavily in the final analysis, but on the most important factor mom and son agree.
"Academics are very important to us," Wormley explained. "We'll be looking hard at the schooling and education at all the schools."
With well over a year left before signing day 2012, Wormley will have plenty of time to thoroughly evaluate all of his suitors. He insists his recruiting battle is far from over and that other programs will have ample opportunity to make up ground on his two favorites.
"Right now, I'm taking (recruiting) slow," he said. "I'm only a junior so I have a lot of time to decide where I want to visit and go."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.