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September 23, 2013

Looking back: Pat White




If there was ever a debate as to which former West Virginia football players would represent the Mountaineers version of Mount Rushmore, one that immediately would come to mind to take one of those spots would be Pat White.

The Chief, as he was commonly referred to, has become almost synonymous with West Virginia football due to his success in the gold and blue and his breath-taking plays, which have imbedded him into the lore and the history books of the state's flagship university.

A once in a generation type of player, White is widely considered one of the greatest ever to don the gold and blue and his name can be found under almost every major rushing and passing mark in the Mountaineers record book along with taking home a truck load of accolades during his time on campus.

White finished his West Virginia career winning 34 of the 42 games he started, while accounting for a total of 10,529 yards and 103 touchdowns as the centerpiece of the Mountaineers offense during his four year career in Morgantown.

The quarterback captivated not only those in Morgantown, but the entire country as one of the top dual-threat signal-callers in the modern era of college football.

White would lead not only lead the Mountaineers to four straight post-season appearances, but would win each of them becoming the only quarterback to start and win four consecutive bowl games including a pair of BCS matchups in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

But it wasn't the easiest task to get him to Morgantown in the first place, as the West Virginia coaching staff had to win not only one, but two separate recruiting battles for the electric athlete.

White was a standout two-sport athlete at Daphne High School in Mobile, Alabama, serving as the Trojans quarterback and an outfielder on the baseball diamond. As a junior in high school, White accounted for over 1,600 total yards and 18 touchdowns drawing the attention of programs throughout the SEC with his athleticism and versatility.

His senior season would be even more impressive as White would finish third in Alabama's Mr. Football voting as he would rush for 1,905 yards and 31 touchdowns, while passing for 1,488 yards and 15 more scores leading Daphne to a 14-1 record and state runner up in Class 6A.

He was equally impressive on the diamond hitting 12 homeruns, with 48 runs batted in and 29 stolen bases while hitting at a .487 clip as White would win two state championships.

West Virginia would offer White a scholarship during his senior season spearheaded by the efforts of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who had been involved with the dynamic talent since the summer leading into his final high school season, according to former WVSports.com Senior Writer Jim Laise.

"West Virginia told him that he could play quarterback here," Laise said.

White held offers from defending national champion LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and various others during the winter of 2003, but he would ultimately narrow his choices down to a pair of programs. He had previously visited Vanderbilt in December, but elected to eliminate the Commodores.

West Virginia and LSU each hosted White on back-to-back recruiting weekends in January, and the race appeared to be neck-and-neck. The Tigers efforts were led by defensive coordinator Will Muschamp who attempted to entice White with visions of playing athlete for the SEC power, while Trickett sold White on the opportunity to continue his career at his preferred position.

"I really enjoyed West Virginia. I really got along with the players, students and everybody. I felt real comfortable at West Virginia. It's a real nice college town," White said at the time. "They are recruiting me strictly as a quarterback. That's where I really want to play in college."

The nation's No. 55 athlete and a Rivals.com three-star prospect, White was a legitimate target for the Tigers who coveted White's athleticism and were offering him the opportunity to begin his career at quarterback, but possibly move to wide receiver.

"My visit to LSU was nice. I really enjoyed it and got along real well with all of the people. I guess the facilities are some of the top in the nation although I haven't seen very many. I really like what they are telling me," White said.

White would reach his decision Jan. 26 committing to LSU due to his comfort level with the program and the people involved leaving West Virginia faithful thinking what could have been.

But almost immediately, the high school senior had reservations. And come Feb. 4, White would pull a signing day surprise inking with the Mountaineers instead of the Tigers going with what his head coach Steve Savarese would say was "his heart."

"You all just got the next Michael Vick," Savarese said at the time of White's signing. "You just got a white Christmas. You all just got, if not the best, then one of the best players out of the state of Alabama. It's a good day for West Virginia."

At the time little did anyone know just how true that quote would be.

But before White would get to Morgantown to begin his football career, the West Virginia coaches had to prepare for another battle but this time not with another college, another sport altogether.

White was selected by the Anaheim Angels in the fourth round of the MLB Draft in June of 2004 and it was something that the coaching staff had prepared for when they were initially recruiting the two-sport star, Laise said. Making the decision even more difficult for White was the fact that the Angels offered a six figure signing bonus.

But Trickett and head coach Rich Rodriguez weren't going to go down without a fight and the assistant coach would stay in touch with White throughout the entire negotiation process and were forced to make a trip to Alabama to recruit him all over again.

"It was touch and go. You didn't know what he was going to do," Laise said.

After a couple days, ultimately Trickett's efforts would pay off as White would pass on the money and the opportunities in baseball to follow his dream of becoming a quarterback.

White would redshirt during his first season on campus behind senior Rasheed Marshall but would impress in the spring game heading into his redshirt season. White would be involved in a long-standing quarterback battle with Adam Bednarik the following year as the two would serve as co-starters for the first half of the season.

As fate would have it, Bednarik would go down with an injury in the Louisville game and the legend of Pat White would be born, as he would go on to lead the Mountaineers to an improbable 46-44 triple overtime victory after West Virginia trailed 24-7 in the fourth quarter.

White would earn the first start of his career the following week against Connecticut and would never relinquish the hold during his four year career leading the Mountaineers to two outright Big East Championships and a wave of success alongside running mate Steve Slaton.

A perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread offense, White would be named the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007, as well as a 6th place finish for the Heisman Trophy in 2007. Also a great leader on the football field, White was blessed with a gear that many players just don't have and Mountaineer fans became accustomed to every play potentially turning into a big play.

"He took your breath away," Laise said.

He also further endeared himself to West Virginia fans by electing to stay in school for his senior season coming off the heels of the Mountaineers dominating Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

Once his playing career had concluded, White participated in the senior bowl and was named MVP before being selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 44th overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Used as a situational player during his time in Miami, White would eventually be released by the Dolphins before going back to baseball and signing a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals. However, his passion for the game of football would eventually win again and White would sign with the Washington Redskins in April of 2013 to continue his pursuit of being an NFL quarterback.

"A lot of people were saying that I was ahead of my time; I just say I wasn't patient enough for my time," White said. "Once again, my heart brought me back to the game of football, even though I tried my hardest to run from it. It's what I love and what I'm going to do, or be around, until the day they put me six feet under."

Jim Laise contributed to this article.

*****

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