Sept. 12, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist | Grinz on Green Blog
EAST LANSING, Mich. - For decades, the secret to whatever success Michigan State enjoyed on the football field was inextricably linked to prospect evaluation, player development and most of all, overachievement.
Mark Dantonio said that would never change when he took over as head coach in 2007, and even though the program has become a more attractive alternative for upper-echelon recruits, one need look no further than Anthony Rashad White to see that those basic tenets are still in place.
Once resigned to the eventuality of playing football at one of the NCAA's lower levels, White is the personification of MSU's overachieving heritage as he prepares to line up at nose tackle against Notre Dame for the third time in his career.
"It definitely hits you, playing on such a big stage, knowing where you've come from," White said after a recent practice.
White's journey is a classic diamond-in-the-rough tale found throughout Spartan football lore.
He was admittedly an inattentive student at Battle Creek Central High and attended Harmony Community School, a prep school in Cincinnati, to shore up his grades. However, White just missed crossing paths with Dantonio, who had departed the University of Cincinnati after the '06 season to take over the helm at MSU.
White practiced in the Bearcats' stadium, but "we never interacted with each other," he said.
After spending a year in Ohio, White enrolled at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he redshirted as a true freshman in '08 before emerging as a defensive stalwart on a team that fell from the ranks of the unbeaten against Blinn College in the NJCAA national championship game.
White was securely in Michigan State's camp by then, but not before some anxious moments as a doubt-filled recruit worried about getting lost in the shuffle.
"To be honest, coming from Battle Creek I didn't have the best grades so I didn't think I'd be able to play at a big college," he said. "I actually thought about going to a D-II or D-III school.
"After playing at Harmony for a year, I was supposed to get recruited to West Virginia but the coaches moved on so I ended up going to a junior college."
Without many distractions to speak of, White, a senior sociology major, had no choice but to concentrate on schoolwork and his work ethic during his time on the Great Plains.
"Fort Scott is basically a lot of grass, cows, fields, farmland and football," he said. "That's all there is. It was nice to play there, but there aren't many people. You're just there to work hard to be able to go to that next level and get a chance to perform on that big stage.
"I put in a lot of hard work, and hard work pays off."
White is a leader in the weight room where he distinguished himself with a 495-pound bench press and 785-pound squat. On the field, he does the thankless job of clogging up the middle for MSU's run defense - it's allowing just 54.5 rushing yards per game - and will forever be remembered for preserving the Spartans' victory over Georgia by blocking a field-goal attempt on the final play of the 2012 Outback Bowl.
While Dantonio says White has a legitimate shot at playing in the NFL, it's meat-and-potato players like him who have long anchored Spartan success.
Michigan State has rarely, if ever, had the built-in recruiting advantages available to other teams in the region, such as Notre Dame.
While the Spartans' penchant for overachievement, combined with a smattering of top-grade talent, occasionally was good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the nation one week, they became known for suffering an inexplicable loss to the 101st-ranked team the next.
The common denominator in MSU's unprecedented back-to-back 11-win seasons and current 2-0 start is the way nationally acclaimed high-achievers such as Max Bullough, William Gholston and Dion Sims embrace a sound workmanlike approach that served the Spartans so well in last week's 41-7 victory against Central Michigan.
"When those guys do it, it makes everybody else want to work 10 times harder," White said. "We have freshmen who want to work hard everyday because they see the first-team and second-team defenses working so hard. They're doing anything they can do to show the coaches they're putting in just as much effort to get on the field.
"Everybody on this team is a hard worker so I say all the players are the best players. I definitely believe everybody has to overarchieve here because nothing comes easy. If we hadn't come out ready to play, Central Michigan could have beat us. We can't afford to let anything get past us so we can always play at that level we need to be at."
"We must overachieve, there's no question. It starts with me and it's got to move through our entire program. We have to be better than what we were before."
The assumption always has to be, White added, that the Fighting Irish are working just as hard, if not harder, and will play their best on Saturday night, and so will all the opponents MSU faces.
"We must overachieve, there's no question," Dantonio said. "It starts with me and it's got to move through our entire program. We have to be better than what we were before. If you come in as a 4-star recruit, that really doesn't serve any purpose. We've got 4-star recruits who aren't starting for us and we have 2-stars that are.
"So you have to be able to overachieve and you have to reach a little higher. If you can't do that then inevitably you're going to fail. Those are some of the things we're constantly talking to our football team about. What can we do to be better? And, we need to be better. As hard a worker as he is, there are things (Bullough) can do to try to get better.
"It's the way we have to be made here."
White nodded in the direction of starting wideout Bennie Fowler, a former highly touted prep who was running routes against preseason All-American cornerback Johnny Adams, who was one of the nation's top defensive prospects in high school.
They were going at each other long after practice had ended.
"People are still out here catching balls," White said. "That's just that extra effort that can make a difference."
"That's just something we buy into when you come to Michigan State," Fowler said. "You've got to always work hard. You see it great players, regardless of sport, like Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice. Those guys always put in the extra time and it paid off for them."
Overachievement becomes an even more powerful main ingredient when factors such as last season's 31-13 loss in South Bend provide a multiplying effect, according to White.
"It's our stadium and a lot of people are going to be there for us," he said. "But it's going to be an emotional game regardless because they beat us last year. I definitely didn't have a great game so I know I want to prepare the best way I can."