Mitchell Worthington: BYU’s dig machine

When Mitchell Worthington arrived at BYU in 2017, reaching 500 career digs wasn’t even on his radar.

“It probably should have been, that would have been actually a really great goal,” Worthington said. “But I came in here with more of the mindset of ‘I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get on the court.’”

But for Worthington, “getting on the court” looks a little different than normal. Literally.

Worthington plays a position called Libero, which requires him to wear a different colored jersey from the rest of the team.

In men’s and women’s volleyball, each team is only allowed a certain number of subs, but the libero can come in whenever without penalty. Liberos also have certain restrictions put on them; they can’t rotate onto the front line and aren’t allowed to serve. But this isn’t exactly a downside Worthington explained, rather it’s strategic.

“Liberos have two jobs: to play defense and serve-receive,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about blocking or hitting. We just get to focus on that first touch and making sure it’s the best it can be to help our team be in the best possible position to get the point.”

For Worthington, playing libero wasn’t exactly a choice. “I realized at a young age that I wasn’t going to have the same physical attributes as other athletes,” Worthington recalls.

At 5-feet 8-inches, he isn’t exactly a spitting image of your traditional volleyball star: long legs, huge wingspan, and tall enough to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree. But Worthington wasn’t going to let that get in his way.

“I accepted that, and I accepted my role, and I decided that I was going to be the best at what I was given,” he said.

And that’s exactly what he’s done. While at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Arizona, he made the all-state second team, was named section player of the year, and was even team captain of his club team, all good enough to land him on the signing class of the 2016 national runner-up BYU Cougars.

When the Mesa-native first arrived at BYU, he joined a team that was, in a word, “stacked.”

Worthington didn’t really expect to see the court his freshman year, instead focusing on getting to know the coaches and the system and just learn as much as he could. However, he was in for a lot more than he bargained for. “There were a couple injuries on the team so I was super lucky and had a chance to play a lot of my freshman year,” he said.

He ended up playing in 45 sets that year and totaled 17 assists and 68 digs; not bad for a true freshman who wasn’t planning on seeing the court. Perhaps even more important than the numbers was the impression he left on head coach Shawn Olmstead and the coaching staff.

“The coaches knew who I was and were excited for me to come back. And so when I came back from my mission, I made it my mindset that I was gonna be the guy, and was gonna be the starter,” Worthington said.

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Torreón, Mexico, Worthington came back and solidified himself as a starter for the 2020 season. He ended up second on the team in assists with 36, recorded 79 digs, and even added in one kill for good measure. As the years went by, his numbers only got better, as he tallied 43 assists and 121 digs in 2021, and 50 assists and 162 digs in 2022.

“I came into this year knowing I was close[to reaching 500 digs],” Worthington said. “Achievements like 500 digs just come with the process, and it’s awesome.”

He eventually reached the career milestone during the February 24 sweep of the Concordia Eagles, and in doing so, also passed Davide Gardini for seventh place all time at BYU for career digs.

“Any time your name is on a list like this it means something. He’s amongst some of the best volleyball players this program has ever seen,” Olmstead said. “I hope his name continues to climb the ranks as the season progresses.”

It certainly has, and Worthington isn’t planning on slowing down; he’s well on pace to break 100 digs again this season as well as surpass his season-high assist number. As one of only three seniors on the team, he’s also stepped into a leadership role to help lead his team through tight games and tough situations.

“It’s not easy by any means, but you have the practice, you have the experience, and you know what needs to be done in certain situations,” he said.

Worthington is also becoming a leader off the court, as he currently helps coach for a club team in Utah named Club 801.

“Through word of mouth…I was given the opportunity and I’ve loved it. I love the boys that I coach and it’s been a super fun experience,” Worthington said.

In fact, he has loved it so much that it’s now something he wants to continue post-graduation.

“I love the team aspect, I love how engaged you need to be to play on the court…but it’s one thing, as an athlete, to do the things your sport requires, and then it’s another thing to teach those skills,” Worthington said. “It’s been a really great experience and I would love to at some point continue my coaching career.”

But in the meanwhile, Worthington still has a few games left on the collegiate courts. The big one is on April 15th though, as he and the other seniors will walk onto the Smith Fieldhouse floor for the last time.

For Worthington, it will no doubt be bittersweet. With a win, however, hopefully it will be the cherry on top to what has been a remarkable, record-setting career.

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