Years down the road when people in Princeton remember Ronde Worrels, his greatness as a football player will likely be at the forefront of their thoughts.
But Worrels hopes his legacy is more than that.
“I just want them to say I was a great kid in the community and I was a great football player,” Worrels said. “But more than that, I want them to say I was a great kid in general and I was able to be good in the community and on the football field.”
Worrels cemented his legacy on the field this spring as the Princeton senior rushed for 620 yards and 11 touchdowns on 100 carries to finish as the Bureau County record holder for career rushing yards (4,387) and touchdowns (74).
He also played linebacker, recording a team-high 67 tackles, with three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The Northern Illinois University recruit led the Tigers to a 6-0 record for their first perfect season in program history.
For all he accomplished this season, Worrels is the NewsTribune Offensive Football Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.
“I think as far as the type of season he had, it was par for the course,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “He’s a kid who we certainly fed off for the last four years. He did nothing but shine in his last opportunity to step onto the field.”
Worrels started the year strong with 111 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-14 win over defending Class 1A state champion Lena-Winslow.
He rushed for more than 100 yards in three games and scored multiple touchdowns in four games.
“There’s not a coach in our conference or anybody we’ve played in the playoffs who did not know where No. 28 was on the field,” Pearson said. “When you have a guy of that caliber, it certainly opens up other aspects of your offense. It allows other players to shine. If you’re going to try to stack the box and stop him in the running game, it’s going to open up the passing game and our play action, and it’s going to allow other players who may now be single covered more of an opportunity to make a play. Defensively, if teams saw 28 on one side of the field, they’d audible and try to go the other way. It opened up roles for some of our younger kids to shine.
“Having his presence on the field really allowed a lot of our other kids to step up their games and be successful.”
While his presence on the field certainly played a critical role in Princeton’s success over the past four years, Worrels hopes his impact is felt in the program after he’s gone.
“It was awesome, especially since I’ve been playing on varsity since I was a freshman, to be able to go out in front of the fans and give them one more year,” Worrels said. “But the biggest thing with me is being able to go out with the younger kids and show them how to keep the successful seasons going for Princeton football. I definitely want my impact to be more than my individual stats. I want it to be how I was a leader on the team.
“I’ve been in the weight room showing hard work, listening to the coaches and doing everything they asked. That’s how you’re going to be successful. You can’t be on your own. You have to work as a team. I tried to show them that by leading by example.”
Pearson said Worrels’ example is infectious and can help the Tigers continue their string of success after a 7-4 record and second-round playoff appearance in 2018, an 11-2 mark and a semifinal berth in 2019 and a 6-0 record this spring.
“No matter what we were doing football wise whether it was in the weight room, in then classroom going over film study or game plans or in practice, he only knows one speed and that’s going as hard as he possibly can and doing everything he can possibly can to make himself better, which in turn is going to make the team better,” Pearson said. “That type of mentality is extremely contagious for younger kids because they see a talented player like Ronde and they see how hard he works and how much time he puts in and the humility he possesses while doing it. He’s not in it for himself. He’s in it for the betterment of the team. That’s when you have an opportunity to have some really good football teams, when you have a leader like that in the program who has that type of character.”
Pearson said that character will help Worrels succeed at the next level as a linebacker at NIU because of his “work ethic, his drive, his determination and perseverance.”
“He’s a tremendous ambassador for our program,” Pearson said. “He’s not only an ambassador for our program, but a great ambassador for me, a great ambassador for our school and a great ambassador for our community. He’s just a special, special kid.”