Aug 26, 2013
By Jon Cooper
With a little patience, D.J. White might been making his college debut on Saturday afternoon when Georgia Tech hosts Elon to open the 2013 season.
But he just couldn’t wait.
In his defense, that impatience is not all his fault. He’s one of four brothers in an ultra-competitive family, from which two cousins run track, a third plays football at Auburn, his dad was a good hoops player and even his mom was athletic, playing college basketball.
“There was competition because all my brothers played sports,” he said. “So we always kind of pushed each other to do well.”
Actually, White’s pushing to see action may have been surpassed only by the Georgia Tech coaching staff, which couldn’t wait to get him on the field. They activated him in Week Five against Middle Tennessee State last season, flying in the face of their original preference of redshirting him.
“Whatever the coaches decide is the best decision,” said the McDonough native and former Union Grove High School star. “They called my number and I just tried my best to make plays.”
He made five tackles (all solo), with a pair of multi-tackle games, the second coming against North Carolina on Nov. 10 at Chapel Hill, when he registered his first forced fumble late in the third quarter, separating Sean Tapley from the ball to set up a field goal in the 68-50 shootout win. He also had a multi-tackle game against Boston College and had one stop against BYU.
The multi-tackle games and forced fumbles should increase this season, as should the tackles for loss, fumbles recovered, interceptions and pass break-ups — basically anything that comes with getting on the field more — as White expects to see a lot more action. The increase in action should start Saturday, as he’s been included in a lot of Nickel packages throughout training camp and Elon runs a spread offense.
White is not the only one professing that he’s ready for prime time, or at least more time. Head Coach Paul Johnson, who had the final word in White’s trading in his redshirt for a gameday jersey sees the talented corner as an option.
“I think D.J. had a good summer. He’s had a good camp,” said Johnson. “He needs to be more consistent but he’s doing some good things. Physically he’s gotten stronger and faster as he’s gotten older. He’s put himself in a position where he’s going to play some.”
Just where he needed to improve to put himself in that position became clear following in his 10 appearances last season, where he was exposed to special teams. He was happy to gain the experience as well as the gauge on his game.
“I think [playing on special teams] helped me prepare for the speed of the game and also the strength of the players,” said White, who in high school played more on the return end of special teams, averaging 16.0 yards per punt return and 21.9 yards per kickoff. “It gave me an idea of how much stronger I needed to get this off-season and that’s one of the things that drove me.”
When he wasn’t driving himself he found motivators in redshirt senior and Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List member Jemea Thomas and senior Louis Young. The upperclass cornerback tandem may be keeping White from getting on the field as a starter but both also recognize that the youngster’s day is coming and they’ve gone out of their way to mold him to assure he is ready when that time arrives.
White has been an attentive student — an attribute he’s shown as well in the classroom, as he made Dean’s List — and is grateful to his peers.
“I had a chance to learn from the upperclassmen like Louis and Jemea and guys like that and getting a chance to work with them more hands-on,” he said. “That’s my biggest thing. I’ve gotten a little bit better since the spring. Just getting in and out of my breaks faster. I feel if I can do that I can be a better, complete cornerback and continue to get more physical also.”
His improvement has caught the attention and earned the admiration of his mentors.
“D.J.’s come a long way,” said Thomas. “Basically we did footwork throughout the summer, seven-on-sevens, things like that. He’s going to be great.”
“Oh, man, first of all, he’s a great kid, a phenomenal dude,” said Young. “Even though he’s young I learn from HIM, the way he balances stuff throughout the day. He’s strong as a person and I kind of look at that and feed off that. As a player, he’s learning every day and I take it upon myself to help him in any area and give him any type of encouragement or techniques and stuff when I see him go through his reps. I take it upon myself to lead by example at all times for him because he’s going to carry that when I leave. We want to build something strong in that secondary.”
White is confident in his and the entire defense’s ability to catch on to the attacking 4-3 system of new Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof.
“It’s not too simple but it’s not too complicated playing fast,” he said. “Coach Roof’s biggest emphasis is swarming and getting to the ball, everybody giving effort. Combine that with the athleticism that we’ve already got, I think it’s going to be a special defense.”
A defense to which he can’t wait to add his special touch beginning Saturday.
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