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Not even senioritis keeps Wildcat from good grades

Wesley Chapel football and baseball player Justin Wortley is one of only 12 athletes named to the FHSAA's all-academic team.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


WESLEY CHAPEL -- Justin Wortley's toughest foe this school year wasn't lined up in a three-point stance across from him or sprinting down the first-base line. What troubled Wortley the most was nothing more than a concept, an idea, albeit a powerfully potent one for a young man of 18 years with a bright future. Senioritis.

"You don't understand how much senioritis I had," the Wesley Chapel two-sport senior said.

Well, it couldn't have been that much. Tuesday, Wortley was one of 12 boys and girls from 570 schools across the state named to the Florida High School Activities Association's all-academic team and the only athlete from Pasco County named. To qualify, an athlete must earn letters in two sports and have an unweighted grade point average of at least 3.5. He has a 3.78 and is ranked sixth in a class of 218. Each recipient receives $500 and a medallion and is eligible for the $2,500 Scholar Athlete of the Year award to be handed out to a boy and girl at the June 14 FHSAA All-State awards banquet in Tampa.

Yet after three seasons of hard schoolwork, of being a top student and student leader, Wortley thought he would ease up on the gas a bit for his final year.

Well, that's what he thought anyway.

"My two toughest classes were A.P. chemistry and precalculus," he said. "I would just sit there and get a decent grade, a B on a test and not care about it.

"I used to want to get a good grade, an A. I used to want to argue about it with the teacher. But instead, I just sat there and I'd tell my friends, "I don't care because I'm out of here."'

But mom Liz helped him "overcome" the dreaded senioritis.

"Every day after school, I'd come home and she'd grill me," he said. "She'd say, "I called your teacher, and she said you have homework.' And I'd have to make up some excuse, like, "Uh ... she's lying.'

"I thought it would work, but it didn't. (Mom) would kind of have a weird look on her face and go "Uh ... I don't think that's right. Go do your homework.' And I obey. I'm not really into fighting my parents."

Wortley's mother said her son deserves all of the credit -- all 90 percent of it.

"He's pretty much self-motivated to a degree, and then I motivate the other 10 percent," she said. "He seems to be able to organize himself to get things done. I think seniorities just set in a little bit.

"The cure for that? Me. I kept reminding him to stay focused. He wants to go to the University of Florida. He's already been admitted, but he knows he has to keep his grades up no matter what."

Wortley was Wesley Chapel's starting center in football for three seasons and manned first base for the baseball team. But he also is in the National Honor Society, the National Spanish Honor Society, the Future Business Leaders of America and is the executive president of student council.

"I can almost overthrow the administration," Wortley said. "But not quite yet."

His goal is to attend Florida and study computer science. His mom remembers what her son told her once about his ambitions.

"I want Bill Gates' job, and I want him working for me."

Said Wortley: "So what if it's not realistic? I set my goals high."

His father, George, an assistant football coach at the school, said the honor is better than any athletic honor he can think of (although one the FHSAA neglected to tell the school or family about; mom read it in the newspaper).

"Absolutely," he said. "I'm probably more proud of this than the accomplishments, per se, he's had in football this year. There's only 12 kids in the state nominated for this, and he happens to be one of them. How could you not be an excited and proud parent of a kid like that?"

Wortley said the secret to his success is simple: time management. As an athlete, he can't waste what little free time he has without studying. So he prioritized and took advantage of the athletes' study halls.

"I don't want to say it was easy, but it was more of taking advantage of an opportunity," he said. "I could do my homework in that 30-minute time frame and not have to do it after a baseball or football game late at night. It also gave me a chance to work one on one with teachers, and you can't really get that kind of interaction anymore."

And when it comes to academics, Wortley said he's a fast learner.

"I'm the kind of person that doesn't have to study a lot," he said. "I kind of absorb knowledge in class."

But the most important lesson he learned: "If you work hard now, you won't have to work hard later."

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