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Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman driven by quest for perfection

August 31, 2017 Updated: August 31, 2017 at 4:31 pm
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photo - Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman warms up for their first practice Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, at Air Force Academy. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette
Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman warms up for their first practice Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, at Air Force Academy. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

Antoine Worthman pondered the question as he watched his son shuffle in and out of drills at an Air Force practice.

What more should Falcons fans know about Arion Worthman?

The quarterback’s father reached back about eight years for the answer. Arion, now a junior entering his first full season as Air Force’s starting quarterback, was about 13 and had gone 3 for 4 in a baseball game with a couple of extra-base hits.

Antoine congratulated him for a good game, but Arion would hear none of it.

“I missed a 3-1 fastball,” Arion lamented, thinking of a spoiled hitter’s count in the one at-bat in which he didn’t reach base.

Now, the purpose here isn’t to assist in myth building. Arion didn’t go home that day and chop down a cherry tree. What is relevant, however, is that his father – someone who knows Arion as well as anyone – thinks first of a competitive spirit, confidence, perfect recall and unquenchable perfectionism when finding traits to describe his son. All of those are vital to play quarterback at the college level, particularly in Air Force’s system.

Those traits have only grown in the junior, who guided the team to a 6-0 finish last season, earned Arizona Bowl offensive MVP honors and has his sights set well beyond maintaining his starting spot over fifth-year senior Nate Romine.

“I want to push myself to be the best player in the conference and in the country,” Worthman said. “It’s not about being the starter, it’s about being the best player in the conference, best player in the country. I push myself each day in practice to be the best player I can be.”

The work comes naturally for Worthman, since the alternative is accepting the status quo. And that just won’t do.

Ask him about his first touchdown pass, thrown to Jalen Robinette in a relief role in last year’s season opener against Abilene Christian, and Worthman recalls not the throw or the excitement but the fact that he failed to check the protection to the right side to pick up a blitz.

He knows he left points on the table in the form of missed receivers and missed checks at the line, and it eats at him.

Heck, just watch him mishandle a center-quarterback exchange while warming up before practice and his frustration is instantly visible.

“Watching my film last year, I feel like, ‘Man, I kind of sucked,’” said the quarterback who completed 59 percent of his passes and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. “There are so many plays I could have made, so many things I could have done better just in terms of reads, ball placement, throws. I’m really excited to get this year going so I can have some new tape and just so I can watch myself and go, ‘Man, that was a lot better.’”

Worthman compiled a list of missed plays from last year and recreated those scenes with teammates over the summer to fix them.

There’s no question about who is leading this offense, which in itself is a change from last year for Worthman. That was Romine’s team, as he was granted an extra season and then returned from a knee injury to lead the team to a 4-0 start – throwing for 257 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Navy. But then the team lost three in a row as Romine struggled. When he exited with an injury at Fresno State with the Falcons in danger of a fourth straight loss, it was Worthman who pick up the reins and sprinted forward.

It's a challenge to be plugged into someone else's spot, surrounded by established – and older – teammates. Timidity is a natural result.

For example, Worthman saw that Boise State's defensive front on some plays wasn't ideal for the play Air Force had called. But rather than speak up, he simply followed instructions.

“This year that’s definitely not the case anymore,” Worthman said. “If I see something, I’m going to make the check. I have confidence. I also think (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks) coach (Mike) Thiessen kind of gave me the keys and kind of gave me more freedom. I had it last year. It was there. But it really wasn’t. This year I definitely feel like he believes in me and that gives me the confidence to where if I see something I’ll just make the check right away and put us in the best play.”

Worthman set a goal for himself this week of reaching half the seven touchdowns his younger brother, Adison, scored in his most recent eighth-grade game.

Adison has been mentioned numerous times by both Arion and his father. The kid is already about two inches taller than his older brother and his combination of speed and strength has him hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns at prodigious rates.

Antoine and Arion talk glowingly about Adison's physical attributes and how he’s using them.

With Arion, the talk is never about what he brings physically – although at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds and with 4.4 40-yard dash speed, there would be much worth discussing – but rather how he approaches sports at a cerebral level.

That approach has already helped Worthman to a perfect start at Air Force, even if he doesn't see it that way.

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