Bears' top pick White motivated by doubters
Unlike most of the players selected in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, Kevin White has rarely been the star of the show.
In fact, he was never the centerpiece of anyone's football team until last year at West Virginia, when he exploded with 109 receptions for 1,447 yards. Now, as the Bears' first-round pick (seventh overall), White is expected to become an impact player immediately.
"There was a lot of fist-bumping and high-fiving going on when we knew this is how it was going to unfold," said Bears general manager Ryan Pace moments after selecting White. "He checks all the boxes. I can't wait for you guys to see him live."
That seems the perfect scenario for a guy whose off-the-charts competitiveness stems in part from the fact that until last year he was never THE GUY.
"I guess always being overlooked," he said when asked about why he's so competitive. "I wasn't the star in high school or junior college; I had to go through that. And even at West Virginia my junior year, I was killing it in spring, killing it in camp, then went down with an injury, something with my foot, and went through three different quarterbacks.
"It was always something. Having (quarterback) Clint Trickett my senior season healthy was big."
Before he was able to bask in the spotlight, White languished at Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, playing in front of "crowds" that were more like immediate family and intimate friends. Anxious for an opportunity at the next level but receiving no interest, he sent out 250 emails to FBS coaches looking for an opportunity.
"Lot of cut and paste," he said. "Google Wisconsin, or West Virginia, wherever, pull up the coach's information and then, (write) 'Hey, this is Kevin White from Lackawanna Junior College. I would like to be a West Virginia Mountaineer.' Then I would change 'West Virginia Mountaineer' for 'Wisconsin Badger.' "
He got one response -- from Hawaii, and that wasn't until a week after his season ended. So motivation was hard to come by.
"You don't have anyone at your game, it's not on TV, you don't have the best equipment, (and) I wasn't getting offers," White said. "Things that motivate guys at junior college are getting offers. I wasn't getting any, so I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' "
White's big break came via Facebook, where he got a message from West Virginia. He assumes it was the result of having two former Lackawanna players already in Morgantown.
Worse than having to scrounge for any FBS attention were the two years before he finally got on the field at Lackawanna. Idled with a shoulder injury that wiped out 2010, White endured a paperwork snafu for financial aid that sidelined him in 2011.
It was downtime but not wasted time.
"I just played the spring, basically," White said. "That's when I tried to get a lot of work in. I was home when I missed that semester, and I would just tie up boots and go run up the hill or go out late at night and work on my juke moves. Watched a lot of film, and I love to lift."
The result was a 6-foot-3, 215-pound chiseled frame that provided a physical force stronger and faster than his opponents. Still, the results weren't eye-opening.
Even in 2013, his first year with the Mountaineers, White's impact was minimal -- 35 catches for 507 yards.
"A couple injuries," White says in explanation. "Three different quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator, first year. Receivers coach, first year. It was a little bit of everything."
But White could feel it coming together more than a year before his breakout season.
"The season at junior college, and then going to West Virginia, I noticed it in spring and summer camp," he said. "I was doing some really good things. Just dominating in practice."
It all finally played out for White on the field in 2014, and his roller-coaster ride reached another summit Thursday when the Bears made him their highest draft pick in 10 years.
It would be a mistake to doubt White's ability to make an impact starting on opening day, when he should be lined up across the field from Bears Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
"I just love for someone to say I can't do something, and then I do it and get a smile on (my) face," he said, thinking of past slights, real or imagined. "Everyone would always say, 'You know, if you go Division-1, you may sit the bench.' Or, 'There's only 1 percent chance you'll go to the NFL.'
"That's what keeps me going."
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