May 6, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- He wasn’t about to tell a lie, a small white one or otherwise. Despite the seemingly endless physical and psychological testing, the inevitable profiling by measurables and the unavoidable grey area that comes with such a selection process, James White has thoroughly enjoyed the pre-draft experience.
“For sure,” he said. “It only comes around once.”
But the former Wisconsin tailback has been on the clock since the Badgers’ loss to South Carolina in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl, and he can’t wait for the National Football League draft to finally take place so that he can get on with his life -- in whatever direction that it may take him.
Anticipating the culmination of the process -- the 79th-annual NFL draft will be held Thursday (first round), Friday (second and third rounds) and Saturday (rounds 4-7) -- White said, “I’m nervous and excited all in one. But I’m a pretty even-keeled person so I’m just going to try and stay relaxed.”
Much easier said than done.
“I’m just hoping to hear my name called,” White said with understandable trepidation.
Believe what you will, and the mock drafts are hardly reliable predictors, but most projections have White going somewhere in the middle to late rounds. It’s a new world. Running backs, as a whole, have been devalued. Last year, for the first time since 1963, not one was chosen in the first round.
Asked if he had a feel for when he might get drafted, a round number, White said, “I have no idea. You hear all sorts of things. It doesn’t matter to me when I go as long as I get my name called. Besides, it’s what you do after that (after the draft). That’s all that matters.”
As for the proliferation of all the football bloggers and all of those mock drafts, he admitted that they’re difficult to ignore especially when friends or family will reference them. “But you can’t really pay attention,” insisted the 22-year-old White. “Those aren’t the people making the picks.”
After jumping through all the hoops in late February at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, White drew this favorable review from Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki: “Offers a balanced enough skill set to factor as a recyclable, complementing, change of pace back in the pros.”
James White was that -- and so much more -- during his four-year career at Wisconsin.
• • • •
“He’s a perfect fit for any team,” said UW director of athletics Barry Alvarez, a College Football Hall of Famer. “Like most of our kids here, he will be a good locker room guy; he will be a good citizen in the community. He’s a guy who could go in and quietly play in that league for a long time.”
Alvarez, who coached 16 years at Wisconsin, has always been a fan of White’s versatility. “He’s been a consistent runner for us,” he said. “But he also can come out of the backfield and catch the ball. He can block, too. He brings the whole package. I think somebody will steal him in the draft.”
|“I don’t know exactly how old I was when
I started, but I’ve been pretty much playing football my whole life,” White said.
“And it’s right around the corner now.”
White caught 32 passes in his first three seasons combined with the Badgers. Last year, he had 39 catches, tying for the second most on with tight end Jacob Pedersen (Jared Abbrederis had 78.) “The game has changed, you have to be versatile, you have to be able to do it all,” White said.
Dating back to his prep career in Florida, White has always shared carries, whether it was at St. Thomas Aquinas with his close friend Giovanni Bernard -- the first running back taken in the 2013 draft, to Cincinnati in the second round -- or John Clay, Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin.
White went over 200 carries in a season just once; as a UW senior, he led the team with 221. Prior to that, he had 156, 141 and 125 rushes in each of the three previous seasons. So there should be plenty of tread still left on his tires, no small thing for someone with four years of college experience.
As a competitor, White would have loved to have seen his name on the marquee a little more often. He started just twice his first three years. But there’s something to be said about relatively low mileage.
“The biggest positive,” he noted, "is less wear and tear on my body. I’m thankful for that.”
White made the most of his UW rushing opportunities by running for 4,105 yards. Only Ron Dayne (7,125), Ball (5,140) and Anthony Davis (4,676) rushed for more. Terrell Fletcher is No. 8 on the all-time list. In the early ’90s, he ran for 3,414 yards while sharing a lot of turns with Brent Moss.
Fletcher, a second-round pick (51st overall) in the 1995 draft, went on to play eight years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. He was utilized primarily as a third-down or change-of-pace back.
In 1996, he had a career-high 61 receptions. In 1998, he rushed for 543 yards.
Are there dots that can be connected between the 5-foot-8, 196-pound Fletcher and the 5-9, 206-pound White? Alvarez saw different-type runners. But he also saw some similarities. “Both of them have good hands,” he said, accenting the importance of “getting into the right system” as a tailback.
The NFL scouts had to like what they saw out of White in the Senior Bowl. He led all running backs with 11 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, the only rushing score of the game. In addition, he had five catches for the North squad and was named the Most Outstanding Player on offense.
“It was a great experience overall just competing against the best seniors across the country,” White said. “It was high intensity each and every day at practice. It was not like a normal practice during the season. Guys were going full speed. I tried to answer some of the questions they had.”
“They” would be all the scouts and coaches that attended the workouts.
“I felt comfortable in the game,” said White. “I just wanted to go out there and play at a high level. Whenever I step on the football field, I give it my best effort, so that’s what I did. For sure, I wanted to show them I can run inside and outside and I catch the ball and I can block.”
White showed that he can run a decent 40, too. He was timed in 4.57 at the scouting combine.
“Most scouts thought I would run slower than that,” White said.
“He’s got deceptive speed,” Alvarez added.
White tested well at the combine, on and off the field.
“I had a positive experience,” he said. “I tried to stay focused on the task at hand and show them how athletic I am along with showing them that I know the game of football. I feel I’m very knowledgeable of the game and I’m able to pick up details pretty quickly.”
White, who trained for the combine in South Florida, is represented by Sports Entertainment Group, headed by Jeff Whitney and Adisa Bakari, who graduated from the UW law school. Among their clients are running backs Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell.
“They’ve got quite a few clients who have been through what I’ve been through already and they’ve shared (information) and made it really easy for me,” White said.
The hard part is waiting -- waiting for the draft, waiting to hear his name called.
White will watch the draft from his grandmother’s house in Miami. That’s where he has been staying since the combine, along with his mom and dad. The Whites will play host to a small draft party. “Family and friends,” he said. “Nothing too major.”
Throughout the draft process, he has stayed in touch with Ball -- “I talk to him all the time,” White said -- and he has made a point of heeding the advice of his parents who have assured him, “You’ll get your opportunity and you will make the most of it.”
White has worked out for a handful of teams, including the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins. But if you’re thinking White, who grew up as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, is pulling for one destination over another, think again. “There are no favorites anymore,” he said.
When in doubt about his future, he has reminded himself to “stay patient, stay in shape and stay positive. It’s just a part of who he is. “That’s how I’ve carried myself,” White said. That goes all the way back to when he was a youngster and he dreamed of being in this position one day.
That day is almost here, draft day. “I don’t know exactly how old I was when I started, but I’ve been pretty much playing football my whole life,” he said. “And it’s right around the corner now.”