Dec. 30, 2013
By Jon Cooper
– Monday night was the biggest game of D.J. White’s life, and he responded.
The sophomore corner, starting his first bowl game, recorded career-highs for tackles (13), solo tackles (11), pass break-ups (3), and forced fumbles (2), and recorded his first interception, which nearly turned the game around.
It would not be enough, however, as Georgia Tech fell, 25-17, to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
“My teammates supported me and, our coaches put us in a great position to make plays,” said White, who played in all 13 games in 2013, starting eight of the final nine. “Myself, individually, I think I had a pretty good game. But all glory to God and my teammates and my coaches. They made it happen.”
White made plenty happen all day long. His 13 tackles were second in the game and on the team, behind only Tech senior safety Jemea Thomas, whose 15 stops were one off the school bowl record, (Coincidentally, Thomas’ move to safety allowed White to move into the starting lineup at corner) and his fourth-quarter interception of a Bo Wallace pass intended for Donte Moncrief with 13:36 to go gave Tech new life.
The pick was the result of a masterful job of positioning by the Jackets’ corner, who boxed out the Rebels receiver and pulled in the underthrown pass, one of the few mistakes Wallace made all day. The play loomed even larger, when on the next play, quarterback Vad Lee hooked up with Darren Waller on a 72-yard pass play that pulled Georgia Tech to within six points, 23-17.
“Oh, man, it was huge. It felt like it was a boost for our team,” said White. “For myself individually, I felt like it was a confidence builder, with it being my first one of the season, it was big, something to celebrate.”
White lauded the effort of the defense, which hung in despite a rough start.
“We kind of hurt ourselves a little bit in the beginning, but we got it together and finished strong,” he said. “We kept fighting. That’s the big thing about this defense. I think all the guys fought hard. That’s all that you can ask for.”
The 5-11, 184-pound White never stopped battling Ole Miss’ bigger receivers, led by Moncrief, who ranks third in school history in both career receptions and receiving yards, and Laquon Treadwell, the school’s first SEC Freshman of the Year, whose 67 catches tripled the previous Ole Miss freshman single-season record (set by Moncrief). Both receivers stood 6-3, with Moncrief holding a 40-pound advantage over White and Treadwell a 30-pound edge.
White never backed down. He did what he did all year long.
“Just competing for the balls in the air,” he said. “Those guys are big receivers and are talented, but I see that every day in practice with the receivers I go against. So it was a challenge but I felt like I was prepared going into it with them because of the guys I see in practice.”
Spring practice is the next time White will be in a competitive game.
While the Music City Bowl loss is disappointing — he expressed special disappointment for the seniors — the hurt will eventually go away. However the confidence White gained in Nashville will not. His first bowl game start made a nice final chapter to a sophomore season in which White played some of his best ball down the stretch — setting personal highs for tackles (7) and solo tackles (5) on Nov. 14 at Clemson, then matching his solo stops and recording his first tackle for loss on Nov. 30 against Georgia.
White will file away a lot of what he learned in his eight straight starts and try to build on it for his final two years on the corner with the Jackets.
“It was an experience year,” he said. “Coming off of a freshman year, mostly playing special teams, my biggest goal coming into this year was to get better, work on my technique. As the season progressed, I got more and more familiar with what was going on on defense. I think that’s the biggest reason why I got better toward the end of the season.
“Going into the off-season I’m going to listen to my strength coaches,” he added. “I’m going to get stronger and get faster, work on things that I didn’t do that well this year as far as improving.”
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