Q&A: Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy

Jerel Worthy has become a leader on Michigan State's defense. Icon SMI

You probably heard Jerel Worthy's name a few times during the offseason.

The Michigan State defensive tackle appeared on the national radar when the first set of mock drafts for 2012 filed in late this spring. Colleague Todd McShay had Worthy going at No. 5 overall, as long he skips his senior season, while colleague Mel Kiper lists Worthy as the top junior defensive tackle in the country.

Worthy also made headlines recently when reporters got a look his new tattoo -- a Spartan stepping on a furry animal wearing a block "M" helmet -- at Michigan State's preseason media day. Although Worthy is very active on Twitter, his tattoo sent a pretty loud message.

I checked in with Worthy on Wednesday and discussed the high expectations, the tattoo and more.

What are your top priorities here in camp?

Jerel Worthy: If I had to say one area, I'd say my pass rush. There's a lot of times I got to the quarterback, but when I watch the film, there are more opportunities for sacks. If I can achieve those goals and improve myself, I could ultimately see double-digit sacks this year, if I work hard enough.

Is that your goal this season, double digits in sacks?

JW: Definitely. Any defensive lineman, when you set your goals for the season, 10 sacks is always the goal, whether you're a defensive tackle or defensive end.

How are you dealing with some of the expectations placed on you?

JW: I try to set it aside. You never want to get caught up in the hype because it forces you to think about things you don't need to be thinking about. My objective is just to focus on the present, focus on this season, focus on guys getting better on our defense, focus on being a leader for our team and winning another Big Ten championship.

Do any guys joke with you about the draft stuff?

JW: Yeah, you always get it. Everybody has their fun. But we try to put that in our rear-view. That's something that comes along down the road. I'm just working for the team right now, trying to be a leader for coach [Mark Dantonio], coach [Pat] Narduzzi and the entire defensive staff.

The Big Ten is loaded with great centers this year. Who are the toughest linemen you've faced in the league?

JW: I focus on the offensive lines as a whole, their mannerisms, focus in on trying to pick up little keys, hints of what types of plays they're about to run. I figure if I can get ahead on that, it makes my job a lot easier and get off blocks and play fast. Iowa's offensive line, Wisconsin's offensive line, facing them year in and year out, they're always going to give you a hard test. If you don't come with your A game, they'll knock you on your butt.

What's the story behind the tattoo?

JW: It was just an idea. We were chilling one day, and I came up with I wanted to get a Spartan tattoo to represent my school, and my dislike for the school down the road. I didn't want it to go down as negative message toward anybody. Just wanted to show the love I had for my school. I told my tattoo artist and he sketched it up, and I enjoyed it.

Where did you have it done?

JW: I had it done in Ann Arbor, at my friend's house. We were all hanging out, relaxing and barbecuing, and we were all getting tattoos. A lot of people came up with their ideas, and that's what I came up with. And there it was.

So you did it in Ann Arbor?

JW: Yeah, unfortunately. That's where my guy was, and he was the best guy to do it. So it's cool.

Have you heard from any Michigan fans or players on Twitter?

JW: Oh, yeah, definitely. But I really don't buy into that. The way I see it is they're fans, they have their opinions, they have their doubts about what I do or anything I say. So I just let them voice their opinions. I never really take heed to anything of that nature. I just try to go out and play well for my team and have fun.

What would it mean to go through your career without losing to Michigan?

JW: That would mean a lot. It's what I signed up for. You come to Michigan State to beat teams like Michigan and Ohio State, just enjoying the festivities of Big Ten ball. Coach D's from Ohio, he understands the quality of players that come out of Ohio, and everybody can't go to Ohio State. So he told me to sign on up here. I followed him up here and I was ready to go ever since.

You talk about beating Michigan, but what about Ohio State? That's the one Big Ten team besides Nebraska that you haven't beaten.

JW: It would mean a lot. We work hard to beat all our opponents in the Big Ten. Me being from Ohio, it's very personal for me. Not going to Ohio State, that kind of affected me a little bit, but God had a different plan for me and a different direction he wanted me to go. I just listened and he allowed me to come up to Michigan State and be around a bunch of good guys, great teammates and a wonderful coaching staff. I've been blessed.

Who are some guys to watch out for on the defensive line?

JW: We have a lot of guys, we're pretty deep this year. Guys like Kevin Pickelman, he's a fifth-year senior. Rashad White's coming along strong, he's a very explosive guy, weighing in around 320. Will Gholston's starting to get a lot more comfortable. Denzel Drone's one of my closest friends, so I'm always on him and he's working twice as hard to get himself ready. You know about Tyler Hoover and his production he brings. So we have a lot of guys, a lot of depth, and guys are a lot more vocal than they have been in the past. They're one year older and a lot more comfortable.

A lot of people point to how tough your road schedule will be this season. How do you look at that schedule? Will this season show where Michigan State is as a program?

JW: It's another year where we have to strive for respect in the country. It's another year for us to go out and prove ourselves against a lot of elite teams. We have Iowa on the road, Ohio State, Northwestern, but we can't lose sight of our focus. We have to go in, knowing we can win each game, never get too overwhelmed by the stadiums we're going in. As long as we can stay focused, we'll take care of business.