USF says QB White is 'a leader ... a winner'
TAMPA -- If you have any question about Mike White's qualifications as a future college quarterback, remember where he was when he accepted a scholarship offer to play for Willie Taggart at USF: Still on the team bus in the parking lot of the Citrus Bowl, having just led Fort Lauderdale's University School to its first-ever state championship.
The perception of White is an under-the-radar coup, underrated or even ignored by national recruiting sites -- and most college recruiters -- until his USF commitment in early December, the very day Taggart was hired. USF's coaches have no doubts about the 6-foot-5, 195-pound prospect coming to campus this fall.
"He went under the radar a little bit, just because this was his first year starting," Bulls quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan said. "He went undefeated, completed almost 70 percent of his passes, and toward the tail end of recruiting, he was pretty highly sought after. Intangibly, he has everything you're looking for: He's a leader, he's a winner, he's a great student. We're really excited about him coming here."
University trailed Madison County 17-0 in the state final, and White rallied the Suns back, throwing a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the first half, then the game-winner for the lead with six minutes left. Earlier that day, assistant Larry Scott had shown Taggart video clips of White, convincing him to extend a scholarship offer that hadn't come from the previous coaching staff.
"I was ready to commit. All I needed was an offer," White said. "My family and I had talked about it earlier, and I was ready to commit. It was surreal. Definitely one of the greatest days of my life."
His relationship with USF and Scott went back to before he'd started a high school game, when he was a backup to Gunnar Holcombe, who signed last year with Marshall. As Scott watched Holcombe in practice, he was impressed by the little things he saw in Scott.
"He's known Mike since his freshman year. Coach Scott realized his potential early, and that's a great sign of an exceptional recruiter," University coach Roger Harriott said. "He stayed on him. Mike's the type of kid now where if you've seen him in person, any recruiter in the country would offer him."
White played under Harriott for seven seasons -- he oversees the school's middle-school program as well -- and that experience in the same system has made him a smart quarterback, priding himself on making correct reads and limiting his mistakes.
"Everyone can trust you and look at you as a leader if, when the going gets tough, you're cool, calm and collected," White said. "If you can act like you've been there before, you can keep your team calm. You just play football."
Taggart's offense isn't a simple one, relying on quarterbacks to read defenses and adjust quickly, so White's intelligence was something that attracted USF's coaches as much as his physical attributes.
"Our offensive scheme is complex, so you've got to be smart. You're going to be asked to change a lot of plays on your own," Taggart said. "You have to be a gymrat. You also have to be able to throw the football, complete passes, not turn the ball over. Mike can do all of those things. I think Mike's going to be a great football player for us one day. He's going to come in and compete with the rest of the guys."
Once USF had offered him a scholarship -- and he'd won a state championship -- other schools came after him, even as he still didn't register in the databases of major recruiting sites.
"Once I committed to USF, that's when it actually started to pick up the most," said White, reminded of how the Bulls recognized him long before most schools jumped into the picture.
Marshall, impressed by his play in the state playoffs, had offered him just before the Bulls did. Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meachem, who had recruited White as an Oklahoma State assistant, offered him a scholarship. Former USF coach Skip Holtz, who hadn't offered White a scholarship when he was at USF, offered him one at Louisiana Tech, because his offensive coordinator, Tony Peterson, had recruited him at Marshall.
Two weeks before signing day, Mississippi State offered, and offensive coordinator Les Koenning sold him on the visibility of playing in the SEC.
"Obviously, the SEC speaks for itself in football," White said. "But there was something about USF. I remember Coach Scott telling me 'You're going to have these schools coming up who never really were with you from the beginning. USF's always been there. I took that to heart. They gave me a chance, and I didn't want to let them down."
USF had a highly-touted quarterback committed to the Bulls -- twice -- in Winter Park's Asiantii Woulard, but he re-opened his recruiting after the coaching change and ended up signing Wednesday with UCLA. USF's quarterback job is wide-open for 2013, with four-year starter B.J. Daniels graduated. Two returning quarterbacks, Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd, have each started a few games, but over the last two seasons, they've combined for one passing touchdown and nine interceptions.
White is now signed with the Bulls, but as it turns out, the biggest hurdle to getting him on campus isn't the SEC, but MLB. Also a coveted right-handed pitcher, White has been projected as high as a fifth-round pick in this summer's baseball draft. A lucrative pro offer could give him pause, but White said his plans right now are to make a name for himself in college, potentially in both sports.
"It's definitely a possibility, but Mike has dreams of being a college football player and a college baseball player," Harriott said. "Coach Taggart has an open mind to his playing baseball and football. Mike's heart is in football right now. We'll see what transpires as we move forward."