Nov. 12, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Before Blair White could catch a ball for Michigan State, he had to catch a break.
As a walk-on receiver who had just endured back surgery and been shuffled aside in a coaching change, White wasn't seen as one of the 105 football players who should be invited to camp in 2007.
Less than two-and-a-half years later, he is seen as the personification of perseverance and the best decision of Mark Dantonio's head coaching tenure. Barring injury, the next camp White sees will be in the NFL.
The fifth-year senior from Saginaw ranks among the Big Ten leaders with 58 catches for 836 yards and seven touchdowns. With a 3.89 grade-point average in human biology and a date with dental school when football is finished, White has excelled off the field, too.
As the 5-5 Spartans prepare to play at 4-6 Purdue on Saturday, it is no surprise to coaches and teammates that White is one of 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Trophy for community service, academic brilliance and athletic achievement.
"Improving as a leader and a captain is the next step," White said, sounding a lot like Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. "You can't just live in your own world. To really excel, you have to bring guys along with you."
One All-American did that for White. Spartan fans should be as grateful to running back Javon Ringer as No. 25 is.
"I don't know why he liked me so much," White said of the Tennessee Titans rookie. "We came to Michigan State at the same time. He wore 23, so our lockers were close. And when we ran gassers, the two of us were in front almost every time. It was kind of embarrassing."
The Unstoppable and The Uninvited quickly formed a bond. And after Ringer's impassioned speech about White, his hero, at a preseason team meeting, Dantonio announced that White would be put on scholarship From the reaction, you would have thought that he had just scored on a long TD against Michigan. Actually, that came later.
"The thing I remember was that a lot of people were pretty emotional in that meeting room," Dantonio said. "He got an immediate standing ovation. You didn't have to wait and ask for it. Blair was an underdog. And he was able to get to the top. Because of that, he earned a lot of people's respect."
White's back is fine today, and his attitude is better.
"I want to do what I can to help this team win, whether it's to score on a deep ball or catch a 5-yard out," White said. "If I catch six 5-yard hitches for six first downs and we win, that's all that matters."
His quarterback, Kirk Cousins, shares an analytical approach to the game. But to dismiss White as strictly cerebral and fall back on ethnic stereotypes would be a big mistake. Ask some of the cornerbacks and safeties who have been burned by a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder with 4.5-second 40-yard speed and a 37-inch vertical jump.
"He's a great athlete," Purdue safety Torri Williams said after watching White on tape. "He has good size. He has great hands. His athletic ability is what really stands out. His ability to go up and catch the ball is really impressive."
That, too. But there is so much more to his story.