Michigan's defense was suffocating last season.
The team allowed just 3,032 yards, lowest in the FBS. Their 12.5 points allowed per game ranked second only to Alabama. Jabrill Peppers grabbed most of the headlines, but Chris Wormley was the quiet cornerstone of Michigan's elite defense.
A 6-foot-5, 298-pound defensive end, Wormley was a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season. He leaves Ann Arbor as a four-year letterman with 18 career sacks and 33 TFLs. Though he weighs nearly 300 pounds, Wormley is a special athlete. He clocked a 4.86 40-Yard Dash at Michigan's Pro Day. In addition to his robust size and impressive speed, scouts also laud his balance and call him a "student of the game and a willing leader."
STACK caught up with Wormley at Proactive Sports Performance in Santa Ana, California, where he trained for the NFL Draft process, to find out more about the man they call "Big Worm."
STACK: You're from Toledo, Ohio, which is right on the Ohio-Michigan border. Allegiances are split between UM and OSU. What was it like growing up there?
Chris Wormley: The last weekend in November is always crazy, because that's "The Game." You have Thanksgiving on Thursday with the family and then the game on Saturday. It's a great football town. The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Everyone's split up—neighbors, family, friends, even moms and dads. Being able to grow up and watch that, it was pretty cool.
Your parents were Michigan fans, right?
They were both Michigan fans, so I grew up going to the games and stuff as a kid with my dad. Two or three games a year. It was an unbelievable experience, being at "The Big House" as a kid and seeing all those people fit into one stadium. Just the atmosphere and the game day feel—Ann Arbor is electric. Then going through my own recruiting process, there was Michigan and Ohio State, back and forth. But Michigan ultimately won that battle.
How did it feel to commit to a school you'd been cheering for your entire life?
My parents and my brother and sister were pretty happy. Most of my family, my aunts and uncles, were Ohio State fans. But they quickly converted to Michigan fans, and they came to a lot of games to show support. The Toledo community was very supportive of me. Even the people that are Ohio State fans still say they cheered for me except for one game a year. You know, I'll take that.
You played football, basketball and track in high school. How do you think being a three-sport athlete made you a better football player?
You pick up different athletic skills in basketball. You have better feet from track. You're trying to keep your strength up with the shot put and the discus. Then if you're also doing sprints, it keeps your speed up. So I think those two sports definitely helped me with football things, even though they aren't directly related to football.
Do you have a favorite game at Whitmer High School?
Our playoff games were always pretty fun, especially the first home playoff games we'd have at the beginning of the playoffs. The stadium would be packed, all your fans from Toledo would come out and watch. Family and friends were there, too. Those were always fun. But I think any game playing with the guys was always a good memory.
What makes Jim Harbaugh different from other coaches?
Coach Harbaugh is great. He does things a little differently, which I think is what makes him successful. You can see it on ESPN every night. He's always doing something different. This spring, he's taking the guys to Rome. No other college team is doing that. He just brings something different that makes the University of Michigan a special place, even more so than it was before he got here. He does things without thinking about what other people think. He doesn't care what people think, which I think is a reason why he's successful. He makes people believe in the process of what he wants to get accomplished.
In addition to being a two-time All-Big Ten honoree, you were also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. Have academics always been important to you?
Yeah. I think if I ever got a C, I'd be grounded, you know? Growing up, in grade school and middle school, that's how things went with my mom. She was big on academics. That's one of the reasons I went to Michigan. Trying to keep a decent GPA at Michigan is tough, especially with football. But it's something that I dedicated myself to and something I wanted to prove to myself—I can go to a great university and still get a decent GPA while also playing football.
You wrote a letter to Michigan and the Michigan fans after the season, saying you were leaving Ann Arbor as a better player and as a better person than when you arrived. What inspired you to write that letter?
Ann Arbor is a special place for the people that live there. From the community to the school to the academics, and the people I've met there along the way. Coaches, teammates—teammates who've become some of my best friends. Being in Ann Arbor for almost five years, I've gone through a lot. I've learned a lot of things, met a lot of cool people, done a lot of cool things that without football I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to do. For that reason I feel like it was right to thank them—the University of Michigan, the football team, the community, the fans.
Was there one game at Michigan that sticks out in your mind as the most hard-fought battle of your college career?
I think the Michigan State game this year was harder than we had anticipated. They played their best game of the year against us, which was expected. Rivalry game, we were playing for a trophy, the Paul Bunyan trophy. There's a lot at stake—bragging rights, state pride. We battled adversity. It was tough going, but we came out on top in the fourth quarter.
Was it even sweeter to beat them after they pulled out that improbable victory the previous season?
Being on the field for that last play the previous season, the blocked punt, that was heartbreaking. You kind of look around and see if there's any flags. Is this really going on? The crowd was silent. Coach Harbaugh didn't really know what was going on, and we didn't know what was going on. It was devastating. Then to come out on top the last time playing them, and doing it in East Lansing on their home field, it was pretty special.
How is the training here at Proactive different from what you were used to at Michigan?
I think it's a lot more fast-paced and a lot more individualized. When you have 50 guys working out at your university, it's hard to be individualized and get that specific training you need. But here, there are two or three guys in a small group with a coach who can pinpoint what you do well and what you need to work on. I think it's made us not only stronger players, but healthier.
What are the biggest improvements you've seen?
I've had some knee issues in the past. It's more just weakness in the knees, fatigue setting in pretty early, especially in games and things like that. And I worked with the strength staff and the physical therapists to really target that. I've seen a big improvement even just in the last month. They've helped me out a lot. They've done a lot of great things for my body.
How has your nutrition changed since you arrived at Proactive?
During the season, you just try to eat as much food as you can to stay on top of your weight. A lot of late-night pizzas, shakes, chicken wings—things that weren't as healthy as what you should probably be eating. But now we have planned meals with Chef D. She's done a great job of individualizing based on what we like, what we don't, whether we need to gain weight, maintain weight, lose weight. The food's healthy but it also tastes really good. I'm not too big on seafood, so seafood's never in my meals. She usually puts beef or chicken instead of shrimp or some type of fish. If you don't like something, if you have allergies or whatever, she can customize it to whatever you want.
What's your favorite food she served you?
She makes these quesadillas, chicken quesadillas. I'm a big fan of quesadillas, and she makes them very healthy. Instead of putting sour cream she puts cottage cheese, which at first I didn't think would be good, but it's actually pretty good. She puts spinach inside instead of lettuce. To have something that's not normally healthy with a healthy twist, it's comforting. To have something I would usually have back at home, it's nice to have here.
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What's your favorite pass-rush move?
I'm a big fan of the counter club, either against the offensive tackle or guard. You've gotta set it up. You make it look like you're going upfield on a speed rush, and play it with your outside foot, then make that inside countermove. You want to get a good club on the inside shoulder of that guard or tackle. This past season, we were playing Ohio State and I got their left tackle. I didn't get the sack but I hit the quarterback, and it made him throw an interception to Jabrill Peppers. That was pretty cool.
What will your emotions be like on draft day when you finally hear your name called?
I think for a lot of guys, it's just going to be a sigh of relief. You know what team you're finally going to. You've been thinking for the last year-and-a-half about what team you're going to be drafted to. Who likes you, who doesn't like you, where you're going to fit, if you're going to play, what city you'll be in. I think a sigh of relief is what I'll feel. Then after that, getting to work. I think rookie minicamp is a week or two after that, so it's right to business and starting a new chapter in my life.