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Tim Worley carries message in 2nd NFL act

7/25/2014

The meandering path to Tim Worley's second NFL act was paved with cemetery headstones, marked by hazy stretches and cemented by a sobering stay in jail.

Worley wore a long-sleeved collared shirt and black slacks when he told his story to Tennessee Titans rookies on June 6. But he hit just as hard as when he wore shoulder pads and a helmet on the way to becoming an All-America running back at Georgia and the seventh overall pick of the 1989 NFL draft.

Worley, who never lived up to his immense promise while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, shined an unsparing light on himself as he told the Titans rookies how he frittered away a playing career through a toxic confluence of youth, money and fame.

"That's the thing you want to do when you're in a position like that," said Tennessee director of player engagement Tre Stallings, who has twice brought in Worley to talk to Titans rookies. "Tim's very detailed with everything he shared with the group, and I think that's the kind of message you want to bring."

The message Worley, 47, is spreading has allowed him to get his foot back in the door of the league he couldn't wait to exit almost two decades ago.

He is pursuing a career as a life skills consultant for NFL rookies through Worley Global Enterprises, the company he owns with his wife, Dee. It is a calling as much as anything since the repercussions of throwing away his NFL career nearly crushed him.

"It took my going down the gutter and almost to the point of death to realize who I am," Worley said.

Crashing and burning

The Steelers had been searching for a rightful heir to Franco Harris for nearly a decade by the time they drafted Worley in 1989, four picks after the Detroit Lions selected Barry Sanders. And it looked they like they might have found Harris' successor after Worley, who had size and sprinter's speed, rushed for 770 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

Worley, however, regressed instead of building on a promising rookie campaign.

A propensity for fumbling led to him quickly falling out of favor in Pittsburgh -- he played four seasons for the Steelers and two more for the Chicago Bears -- but that was just a symptom of a larger problem.

A nightlife replete with drinking, drugs, women and new so-called friends beckoned the young millionaire in a city where the Steelers are worshipped. And Worley eventually got caught in the undertow of it.

"I was given an opportunity to set the tone for my life and the people that loved me, and I blew it," said Worley, the first rookie in Steelers history to receive a million-dollar signing bonus.

Worley bounced around after retiring from football in 1996, working in various factories and warehouses, dabbling in coaching and making a living from 2003 through 2005 digging graves in his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina.

"I buried people for almost three years," he said.

The cruel irony of that job: Worley almost buried himself. He continued to drink and abuse cocaine and said he spent about 10 years "in a fog."

The former NFL bonus baby bottomed out on April 23, 2008 -- a date that Worley will never forget.

Pulled over after leaving an Atlanta club in the wee hours of the morning, Worley took a swing at a police officer. Worley spent the next 23 days behind bars and said he has been totally clean since he got out of jail.

"I got down on my knees in my jail cell and I rededicated myself to the Lord," Worley said. "It's by the grace of God that I am here."

A second chance

Dee Foster was 12 years old when she was summoned to the office of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Bryant had read about Foster becoming the first elite gymnast in the history of the state and that she trained with Alabama women's gymnastics coach Sara Patterson in Tuscaloosa.

He congratulated the young girl, who was with her equally wide-eyed father, and told her he expected her to compete for the Crimson Tide one day.

Foster never forgot that meeting and later became a 17-time All-American at Alabama as well as an individual national champion. Despite all of that success, Foster lost the love of her life when Worley ended their relationship while she was still in school.

The two had met at Georgia when Worley was a student there and Foster was competing at a meet in Athens while still in high school. But they lost touch after Worley broke things off while he was with the Steelers.

The two reconnected through Facebook after 18 years apart, right as Worley was pulling his life together. They got married a year later, in 2010, adding another layer to Worley's story of redemption.

The Worleys, who live in Huntsville, Alabama, share a strong faith, and Dee Worley has helped her husband confront the guilt that he had not been able to shake after washing out in the NFL.

"Tim went through a lot of years of severe depression because he felt that he had not provided the proper return on what the Steelers and Bears invested in him," Dee Worley said. "It tore him up."

She is helping him try to repay that debt through their consulting company (she rolled her marketing and public relations company into Worley Global Enterprises in 2010). Worley's focus is on public speaking, while his wife handles marketing and other promotional aspects of the company.

Worley and his wife have designed a multipronged program that includes talking to rookies during training camp and throughout the season and also making himself available for one-on-one sessions with players.

Worley's message to young players can be distilled into something simple yet powerful.

"Let my wisdom that I learned from my mistakes be your teacher," Worley said. "Don't let pain that will come from your negative choices be your teacher, because I learned the hard way."