Various national rankings have tempered the expectations for returning Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy. One look at how his numbers declined from his stellar freshman season of 2021, and it’s given those detractors their leverage in lowering his ranking.
However, in season three in Austin and back in the Steve Sarkisian-led offensive attack, signs are indicating that 2023 will be a redemption tour for the Fresno, California native – which could even mean a Heisman Trophy watch list due to one aspect of Sarkisian’s history that benefits Worthy.
Worthy Now Healthier Ahead of 2023 and Taking on ‘Burden’ Role
Turns out there’s a reason why Worthy’s numbers took a dive: 60 catches, 760 yards, with an average of 12.7 yards per catch and nine touchdowns: He played with a broken hand for half of the season.
How has Worthy responded to that ailment and a down sophomore season?
MORE: Big 12 WR Rankings, 2023
Sarkisian has noticed a wide receiver who’s the first one out at every practice—including the walkthrough sessions for the Longhorns.
“We all know Xavier is a heck of a football player, but what sometimes gets missed is how hard he works,” Sarkisian said to members of the Austin media on August 11. “He is the first guy at every practice, he’s the first guy at every walkthrough. He stays after every practice and stays after every walkthrough.”
He adds that Worthy isn’t just known for his speed on the practice field. Sarkisian notes how Worthy has one of the higher intellects on the 2023 Longhorns.
“He’s one of the three smartest guys on our offense. We put a lot of burden on him to make plays because of maybe the lack of depth at that position early in his career,” Sarkisian said. “And the moment you realize the burden on you, then you can press.”
He further described the burden part as equivalent to putting in the 16th to 18th hole in The Masters or hitting a critical free throw in a basketball game in a pressure situation. In other words, Worthy has begun to prepare himself more for “burden” type scenarios this upcoming season.
“When you assume the burden, then how do you perform? And I think that’s where some of the mental work he’s done will be very helpful for him,” Sarkisian said.
Trajectory and New Preparation Could Get Him to Join a Past Star ‘Sark’ WR
Sark and the Longhorns have already seen what Worthy is capable of when at full strength.
Big 12 defenses additionally were given a front-row seat of the damage the 6’1″, 160-pound Worthy can bring when the ball is trekking his direction.
With his knack for slipping past cornerbacks on the opening move and his ability to separate when involved in a foot race with a CB, Worthy doesn’t take long to become one of the first open passing options for Texas.
The moment he has lots of green in front of him and a defender chasing him, it’s when Worthy stacks the personal wins on the field.
But here’s why it’s best not to ignore Worthy as a dark horse Heisman candidate this fall: He’s in the same offense that produced the nation’s last Heisman winner at WR.
Before becoming the “Slim Reaper” for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, DeVonta Smith was shredding defenses through Sarkisian’s play calls in Tuscaloosa.
In season one with Sark, Smith had his own 60-catch campaign (68 receptions) in 2019. But as he gained more experience with his coaching and play calling, Smith put together his banner 117-catch, 1,856-yard, 23-touchdown campaign that culminated in securing college football’s highest individual honor for the 2021 season.
Worthy — even with transfer portal addition AD Mitchell of Georgia and the returns of Isaiah Neyor and Jordan Whittington — is still one of the elder statesmen of this offense. And he’s now in season three with Sarkisian.
That means signs are pointing to Worthy delivering his best season to date… which could mean triple digits in receptions and his first 1,000-yard season in absorbing Sark’s system, plus preparing himself for more pressurized moments.
While various rankings don’t have Worthy as the top returning wideout, he’s positioned himself as the one with the best breakout… and one who could add to Sarkisian’s list of past Heisman winners he helped coach.