It’s no fluke that true freshman running back James White has already worked his way into the rotation this season for the Wisconsin Badgers. His high school football background, rich with two Florida state championships earned at one of the most prolific prep programs in the county, already had him prepared for the college level.
Still not convinced? White has the 145-yard, four-touchdown game to prove it.
“We had an entire staff of coaches down there, and they coached us well,” White said. “It was very similar to here at Wisconsin. We didn’t watch as much film, but we got out there and practiced hard.”
Entering his freshman year, White’s teammates were able to get their first look at him in summer camp, taking notice of his precocious ability right away.
“He’s way more advanced than I was coming in as a freshman,” sophomore running back Montee Ball said. “The high school he came from is pretty advanced. He learned a lot of stuff down there, he understands the blocking and the defenses already.”
Running backs coach John Settle was also impressed by the football acumen White possessed.
“[White] was way ahead of the curve from a football standpoint,” Settle said. “He came in and was able to learn everything quickly.”
His experience in high school, however, isn’t the only reason for his immediate impact on the offense.
“He’s just a natural born football player, and his ability showed instantly,” Settle said. “That’s the reason he’s able to be on the field. He was able to come in and soak up everything we threw at him.”
UW’s coaching staff believes the more reps White gets during games, the better he is going to get. If White continues to turn in the numbers he has generated over the first few games of this season, those reps are sure to be sent his way. In four games, he is averaging 7.9 yards per carry with four touchdowns.
White’s teammates believe that his success comes not only from his natural ability, but from his attitude as well.
“He doesn’t have a big head about anything, he stays grounded and is a humble person,” starting running back John Clay said. “He’s a good guy and he never stops smiling. It seems like he never has a bad day at practice or off of the field.”
While White appears to understand what it takes to be successful at the college level, that comprehension doesn’t solely apply to on-field activities.
“You need to know when it’s time for school, and when it’s time for football,” White said. “And with studying tape and preparation for the games, you have to be smart about managing your time.”
Settle explained that this type of dedication is what usually holds young players back. White was one of the guys who put in the extra time, learning the playbook in his free time — a sign the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native was serious about his football.
White has heeded his coach’s advice, and because of it, the youngster has often found himself on the field in key moments.
Since White first put on a practice jersey, his intent was to play and make a difference. What augmented his desire was Coach Settle’s philosophy of doing everything possible to keep his freshman from redshirting.
“I want [freshmen] to come in with an attitude and with a mindset that they are going to play right away so that when they go into training camp they are competing,” Settle said.
As the season rolls on, most believe that White will only continue to get better. His teammates already have confidence in him and feel his presence on the team can only be an asset.
“It’s a great thing because it’s pushing the running backs hard,” Ball said. “The sky is the limit for James. Coming in as a true freshman being able to do what he does right now, for years to come he could really be something special for Wisconsin.”
As for Settle, he has concerns for the rest of the Big Ten.
“If I’m an opposing team, I’m beginning to worry because the more confidence [White] gets, the better he’s going to be,” Settle said. “And as we move into Big Ten play I think that teams will be best served to know where number 20 is on the field.”