From left, Donna Worsham, Westwood coach Ross Worsham, senior quarterback Mason Worsham and freshman running back Chason Worsham call themselves a “Football Family” — and no one would argue. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CAMILLA --- She heard the question, but didn’t answer.
Silence swallowed the room, and tears filled her eyes. She started and stopped, but the words wouldn’t come.
Donna Worsham, a tough-as-nails football mom and coach’s wife, can talk X’s and O’s — she has even given her husband plays to run and given her sons advice on how to run them.
But the question that tackled her and left her speechless is the one she doesn’t want to talk about — or even think about.
It was simple enough: “Do you ever think about what it will be like when it’s all over and the kids aren’t playing football anymore?’’
She sat there frozen, more than speechless. It was so quiet you could almost hear her heart break.
That’s life for Donna Worsham, who lives in a unique world, a universe all unto its own in a football family, a world that began years ago when she married Ross, who walks and talks and bleeds football, and flourished when the couple had two sons, who both grew up to be high school football stars.
Ross is the football coach at Westwood, where their oldest son Mason, a senior, is the leader and the quarterback, and their other son, Chason, a freshman, is a dangerous running back.
“This season is so special because it’s the last one for Mason,’’ she said. “This year we’re trying to savor every game, every play. It’s winding down.’’
It’s been a perfect season — for the Worshams and Westwood.
The Wildcats aren’t just a perfect 12-0, they’re riding a 25-game winning streak that dates back to last year when they went 13-0 and won the GISA Class A state title against Memorial Day. They can end an incredible two-year run in celebration Friday night at home at Centennial Stadium in Camilla, where they’ll play Memorial Day for the state title.
Nobody will celebrate like the Worshams, Camilla’s First Family of Football.
“Yes, we talk about football all the time,’’ Donna said. “We talk about football at every meal. They come in from practice and we talk about what they did at practice.’’
Meals can be late.
“Sometimes we eat pretty late — 9, 9:30,’’ Ross said. “Some of the days are long, but it’s all part of it.’’
Donna, who teaches third grade at Westwood, still cooks almost every night, but with practices running late there’s a routine that takes place. Everyone gets their plate and loads up at the stove then sits at the kitchen table. The dining room is used only after football season is over.
“We keep it pretty simple during football season,’’ Donna said.
Then there’s a routine on Friday nights. After the game, everybody comes home, then late that night the whole family watches the game film. The kids and dad talk about the plays, and Donna chips in now and then.
“Sometimes I’ll ask questions, (like), ‘Why did you do that? Or, ‘What was happening on that play?’ ” Donna said. “We’re a football family.’’
Mom will do anything to help her husband and her kids on the field. Ross, who is also the headmaster at Westwood, was so tied up on Sunday with school beauty pageants (yes, school beauty pageants) and getting ready for the state title game that he didn’t have time to drive to Dawson to pick up the state semifinal tape of Terrell Academy’s game against Memorial Day. So Donna drove to Dawson herself and got the tape from Terrell.
“She knows her football,’’ Ross said. “She’s been around it longer than (Mason and Chason) have. If it came right down to it, she could probably step in on the field and be a pretty good coach.’’
Once in a while Ross will even ask her to give him a play.
“He has done that,’’ Donna said. “He will ask me what play he should run on the first play of the game.’’
The answer is always the same.
“I tell him to throw a long pass. I love the long pass,’’ Donna said. “Go for the bomb.’’
Ross and Donna can complete each other’s sentences. They’ve been together forever.
He was the quarterback at Mitchell-Baker High School and she was his high school sweetheart, the prettiest girl at Westwood. He was a year ahead of her in school, but she joined him at Georgia Southern, where he played receiver and helped lead the Eagles to back-to-back national titles in 1985 and ’86. Donna was right there for every play.
She knew then her life with Ross would be full of football.
“We talked about football when we were at Georgia Southern,’’ Donna said. “I knew he wanted to be a coach, and I knew that if we were blessed with children that they would play sports.’’
They’ve been married 22 years. Ross got his first job as a receivers coach at Lowndes, where he coached for 12 years before moving on to become an assistant coach at Cairo before he got the head coaching job at Westwood in 2006. Donna went to work as a second-grade teacher at Westwood in 2004 when Ross was working at Cairo. They moved that year to Camilla into the same house they live in today, about a mile from the school, where they grow watermelons and Christmas trees in alternate seasons.
“Football was always a part of our life,’’ Donna said. “When Ross became the receivers coach at Lowndes, we would have the receivers over at the house every Thursday and we would have pizza.’’
The two sons grew up playing sports, and Donna was always in the middle of everything they did. She tossed them footballs and baseballs when they were just learning to play the game and was at the heart of every game they played.
“We were always in the backyard,’’ she remembered. “They would play baseball, and football. They would be playing and you would always hear them say, ‘Momma, did you see? Momma did you see?’ You didn’t want to miss one of those Momma-did-you-sees.’’
The kids remember growing up in a football family but also in a family that lived by the simple motto: “Do right.’’ And they have deep roots in the church, the community and the school.
They have vivid memories of their mother tossing them the ball, and being right there with every first down, every bump, every bruise and every smile and tear. She’s even there now with bits of advice.
“She tells me not to try to run over people and is always telling me to juke this way or that on plays,’’ Chason said. “And to look for the hole and look for the gap in the defense.’’
Mason hears it, too.
“She asks me, ‘What were you looking at on that pass play?’ And, ‘Why didn’t you make that cut?’ She knows her football,’’ Mason said.
“But we don’t just talk about football. We talk about doing what’s right, and we talk about grades.’’
Donna has seen the good, bad and ugly. Two years ago when Westwood seemed to lose every close game in the last minute, she had to bear the pain along with husband and son, who has started all four years for Westwood.
“It was hard,’’ she said. “You would rather get your eyes burned out than go and lose by one or two points every week.’’
She was with her husband when he was injured at Georgia Southern and Ross decided to sit out as a redshirt freshman after he was hurt. That was tough on Ross, but she was there to support him.
She talks about how it hurt to see her future husband get injured and added that nothing is harder than a mother watching her sons get injured on the football field.
Donna’s heart dropped twice this season, first when Chason suffered a concussion on opening night and later when Mason took a hit to the head and had to be carried off the field in an ambulance.
“Nothing’s worse,’’ Donna said. “It’s gut-wrenching, and it’s the same for every mom or dad. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt, and when it’s your son ... I was very emotional.’’
Neither son had to spend the night in the hospital, and when they were released relief washed over the entire family.
“We know the night nurse, Megan Swilley,’’ Donna said before adding with a laugh: “When we were there the second time with Mason, she told us that if we really wanted to see her that bad we could just stop by her house.’’
Life may be different for the Worshams, but Ross could see it coming. When he played quarterback at Mitchell-Baker his father, Murray Worsham, was his coach. Murray coached for several years in Georgia at Mitchell-Baker, Cairo and Bainbridge, and is still coaching at Navarre, Fla.
“We’re a football family,’’ echoed Mason, who is a third-generation quarterback.
The boys also play basketball and baseball, so there has always been a swirl of sports surrounding the Worsham family.
But there are breaks.
Ross and the boys like to go hunting for deer and birds. They also love to fish at Sister’s Island, where you could find out just about everything you needed to know about the family a few years ago.
“We took momma fishing with us at Sister’s Island on Mother’s Day one year,’’ Chason said. “And she caught the biggest fish.’’
Late meal times in the kitchen, Friday night film sessions, and wrapping their lives around each other under the glow of Friday night lights might be a little different for the Worshams, but as Donna said, “We wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
It’s been a magical season, and a lifetime of memories for everyone in the family; they have shared so much on and off the field.
That’s why it hurts so much for Donna and Ross — and even the kids — to think about any other life, and that’s why they hold this season so dear, the one with both sons and Ross on the same field.
There’s still one game left and a river of memories for the Worshams.
The high point of the season came last week in the overtime state semifinal win against Thomas Jefferson, 35-28, when Westwood needed one of the most dramatic comebacks in the state to survive. Trailing by eight points in the final seconds, Mason — facing fourth-and-16 — connected with Mitch Good for a 17-yard pass to the 2-yard line for a first down to save the season, and then scored to close to within two points.
But there was nothing open on the two-point conversion play as Mason looked to his left to see every receiver covered. Just before he was hit, he looked to his right and flipped a pass to Chason, who faced a wall of defenders at the goal line.
Donna watched the first half from the stands but came down to the fence around the field at halftime to encourage the team when the Wildcats took the field for the second half. She never left and was still by the fence when Chason headed toward the end zone.
When Chason got to the Thomas Jefferson wall that stood between Westwood and the rest of its season, he did the only thing he could think of: He didn’t just leap into the air, sailing as high as he could get, he did a somersault up and over the wall of tacklers, landing in the end zone, carrying the hope and promise of the winning streak and the season with him.
“When he did that somersault, I was jumping up and down and going crazy,’’ Donna said. “Then I just started running in circles. It was crazy.’’
Then she stopped and thought about what a wonderful ride it has been and grew silent again.
Archie Manning, who was a legend at Ole Miss and the face of the New Orleans Saints in the NFL, and the father of two sons — Peyton and Eli, who have each won Super Bowls — was asked once about his favorite season on the football field.
“It was when Peyton was a sophomore quarterback and Cooper (the oldest of the three Manning sons) was an all-state receiver in high school,’’ Archie Manning said. “Watching Peyton and Cooper together that year ... That was the best season, the one I remember the most.’’
That’s why Donna Worsham can’t talk when she thinks about a different life than what the Worshams have right now — a life they cherish.
“Yes,’’ she said, her voice almost breaking. “It’s special.’’