Charlie Woerner arrived on campus at the University of Georgia, an hour-and-a-half drive from the mountains upstate, with a prep football background in which he excelled at everything.
Well, maybe not everything.
In the summer before his freshman season, Woerner was on the field for a conditioning workout with his Georgia position coach, Shane Beamer, who made a simple request.
"I remember saying something about getting in a three-point stance," Beamer said. "And I'll never forget Charlie saying, ‘Coach, I've never been in a three-point stance.'
"Oh, wow, OK. I'd watched Charlie's tape from high school. I should've known that."
Woerner was a four-year starter at Raybun County High School in Tiger, Georgia. The school's enrollment was a little more than 600 students. In 44 career high school games, he rushed for 2,257 yards and 32 touchdowns. He caught 150 passes for 2,696 yards and 28 touchdowns. He registered 272 tackles and 11 interceptions.
But there was one thing Woerner never did while in high school. And that relatively new element of his game is the reason the 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft last month.
First, Woerner never played tight end in high school. And he certainly never was called upon to block. Blocking was something others did for him.
Yet, after a four-year college career in which Woerner essentially majored in dirty work, the 49ers envision him as a blocking tight end and core special-teams player.
"We brought him in here to take the role that we've always had someone have," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Whether it was Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen or Levine Toilolo in recent seasons with the 49ers, Shanahan considers a blocking specialist at tight end an invaluable part of his overall offensive philosophy. But, conceivably, Woerner also brings some other elements to his game the 49ers figure to develop over time.
"It's a very important role for us," Shanahan said. "It majors around blocking. That's what you do best. But if that's all you do, block, then we'll just get an O-lineman to play your position instead. He's got to have some pass skill, and we definitely see that and we're excited about him."
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Woerner appeared in 54 games during his college career with 19 starts. He caught just 34 passes for 376 yards and one touchdown.
The story of how he became a blocking specialist is what defines him.
"I never blocked in high school," Woerner said. "So going into college, into the SEC at Georgia, and learning how to block was rough for me my first year. I had no idea what I was doing. Putting my hand in the dirt was weird. But it was a fun learning process. I love being physical and the toughness of the game. Learning that was fun. My sophomore and junior years, I started to figure it out and I enjoyed blocking."
Beamer spent one season with Woerner as tight ends coach at Georgia before becoming an assistant head coach at Oklahoma. He said he did not have much concern about Woerner's ability and willingness to adapt to something new.
"If you got athleticism, which he does; if you got an amazing amount of toughness, which he does; and then if you got some physicality, which he does; then that's not going to be an issue," Beamer said.
"Because of his speed, his strength, his athleticism, a lot of things just came very naturally to him. It was a matter of learning the skillset and the things we ask the tight end to do, because a lot of that stuff was foreign to him."
Woerner grew up in a sporting family as the second-youngest of Kent and Katie Woerner's seven children. His dad played fullback at Furman University. Charlie's uncle, Scott, a star defensive back at Georgia from 1977 to ‘80, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Charlie's three older brothers each played small-college football.
Sure, Charlie always tried to keep up with his older brothers. But the sibling who might have had the biggest influence on his athletic career was Sally, who is two years older.
Sally was a track star. She holds her high school's record in the high jump and nearly every running event at any distance. She earned an NCAA Division I scholarship to Western Carolina. The Woerner children all participated in track, and Charlie also still holds school records in the discus, 100 meters and 110 hurdles.
"We were competitive growing up," said Charlie Woerner, who still describes Sally as the best athlete in the family. "I couldn't beat her in a race until I was in eighth grade. She was always faster than me and stronger than me. She was my best friend growing up."
Charlie and Sally developed a special bond from playing countless hours outside. The Woerner's residence borders the vast Chattahoochee National Forest. While many of their peers might have been watching TV or on devices, Charlie and Sally were out exploring the woods, playing and running around.
"We were so close because we both loved to be outside," said Sally, who now works at an eye clinic in Atlanta. "My mom made us stay outside, so we'd just play and Charlie had a good imagination. If we weren't out in the woods building a fort, we were biking or jumping on the trampoline or whatever. We enjoyed spending time with each other more than being on a computer.
"If we weren't outside playing, it was a bad day for us. We didn't know much of anything else. We were outdoor kids. And it was a lot of fun."
Perhaps nobody knows more about the person the 49ers selected than Sally.
Charlie made the transition from a touchdown machine in high school to performing grunt work at Georgia. And she said the 49ers can be assured her brother will faithfully do everything asked of him -- whatever is asked of him.
"He's selfless. That's how we've been raised," Sally said, "to work hard, give 100 percent, don't argue, put your head down and keep working. That's how Charlie is. He didn't need a lot of attention. Even at Georgia, he wasn't about all the bells and whistles. He did his job and he worked really hard. And he doesn't need a lot of credit.
"He wants to do it for the overall success of the team. It's really hard to find people like that. He's going to work hard and make sure he's doing what he has to do for the best of the team, and he wants to glorify God the best way possible. They're getting a tremendous athlete, great character and overall a great guy."
As Woerner makes the transition to the NFL, he is taking part in the 49ers video conferences during their virtual offseason program. It is a different way of learning. After the installation of the plays, Woerner and his fiancée, Sydney Gilliam, go outside. She calls out plays and Woerner runs what he just learned. (The couple is planning a June 27 wedding in North Carolina.)
Another big adjustment is likely to happen off the field – when Woerner is allowed to make his first trip to the Bay Area as a member of the 49ers. He admitted to some apprehension about moving to an unfamiliar, well-populated area.
Charlie Woerner's first class as a senior in high school began at 10 a.m. Instead of sleeping in, he often rose early and used the extra time in the morning to hunt and fish before making the 15-minute drive to school.
"We've already joked with him a little bit when he goes out to play football, ‘Charlie, where are you going to hunt and fish?'" Sally said. "He told us, ‘I've already looked up some spots.'"
49ers' Charlie Woerner willing to do dirty work required in offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area