As the NFL preseason pushes forward and the regular season quickly approaches, Badger of Honor is taking an in-depth look at each and every Wisconsin Badger in the National Football League.
We continue with the group of Badgers selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. Up next is running back James White.
A consensus top-75 running back in the country and the 65th best player in Florida, according to Rivals, coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale (which would produce four NFL players in the 2014 NFL Draft – White, fellow Badger Dezmen Southward, Florida St. DB Lamarcus Joyner and Miami guard Brandon Linder), White chose Wisconsin over the likes of Michigan State, South Florida, and Clemson.
Joining a program with plenty of depth at the time – see John Clay, Montee Ball, was no problem for White, who had most recently split carries in high school with Giovani Bernard. White still managed a 1,000 yard, 20 touchdown season as a high school senior.
As a freshman at UW, White saw time immediately, as Wisconsin took advantage of its three-headed beast of Clay, Ball and White on the way to putting up massive numbers on the ground.
White actually led the team in rushing with 1,052 yards and 14 TDs, while Clay ran for 1,012 yards and another 14 TDs and Ball fell just short of 1,000 yards with 996 and an impressive 18 trips to the end zone.
Not only did White lead the Badgers in rushing, he set a new school record by averaging 6.74 yards per carry. He was just the fourth UW freshman to reach 1,000 yards in a single season.
During his sophomore season, with Clay graduated, White moved into a platoon with Ball in the offense quarterbacked by Russell Wilson. Again, the three-pronged attack brought big results.
Ball shouldered most of the rushing load, amassing nearly 2,000 yards, with White used more as the change of pace back on the way to 713 yards and 6 scores, with another 150 yards and a touchdown coming through the air.
In his junior season, White again played second fiddle to Ball, who put up nearly 2,000 rushing yards for the second straight year. The emergence of Melvin Gordon as a legitimate third option limited White’s opportunities as well.
White rushed for 806 yards and 12 touchdowns, and added 132 reception yards and a receiving TD.
As a senior, White teamed up with Gordon and freshman Corey Clement to again bring a strong running attack for Wisconsin.
While Melvin Gordon was busy exploding for 1,600-plus yards, White quietly added 1,444 yards of his own and 13 rushing touchdowns.
Where White became even more important was the passing game. While Wisconsin struggled with quarterback injuries, White was a constant check-down, and caught 39 passes for 300 yards and a pair of scores.
He finished his career having played in 52 games and rushing for a total of 4,015 yards – fourth all time at UW – with a career average of 6.24 yards per carry, a new school record and the fifth best mark in Big Ten history. He scored 45 TDs on the ground – 3rd all time at UW – and 48 total, which is the ninth most ever by a Big Ten player.
Despite what the numbers say, one of the most interesting aspects of White’s career is how often he went overlooked.
True Badger fans knew the impact and importance of White, although he didn’t always get the recognition he deserved on the national level.
It came as no surprise to Wisconsin faithful when White’s name was called in the 2014 NFL Draft, selected in the fourth round (130th overall) by the New England Patriots.
And while many thought White would simply be another cog in a group of running backs that features Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and more, White has been making a name for himself in training camp.
He took first team snaps this past week in camp, and was called an “interesting and versatile player” by head coach Bill Belichick in an interview on SiriusXM radio.
White has yet to show his stuff in the preseason, taking 14 carries for just 36 yards over his first two games, adding a single catch for eight yards. White now has two preseason games left to make his mark on the Patriots and his head coach.
Belichick is notorious for finding unique ways to get his running backs touches, so White will get a chance to make an impact in his first season in the NFL.