TAMPA — If you have any questions about Mike White's qualifications to be a college quarterback, remember where he was when he accepted USF's scholarship offer: on the bus in the parking lot of the Citrus Bowl, having just led Fort Lauderdale University to its first state championship.
The perception of White is an under-the-radar coup.He was underrated or ignored by national recruiting sites and most recruiters until his USF oral commitment Dec. 8, the day Willie Taggart was hired as coach. But USF's coaches have no doubts about the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder who signed his letter of intent Wednesday.
"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."
University trailed Madison County 17-0 in the state final. White rallied the Suns, throwing a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the first half then the winner with six minutes left.
Earlier that day, assistant Larry Scott showed 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 started when White was a freshman backing up future Marshall signee Gunnar Holcombe. As Scott watched White at practice, he was impressed by the little things he saw.
"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."
Taggart's offense relies on quarterbacks to read defenses and adjust quickly. So White's intelligence attracted USF's coaches as much as his physical attributes.
"Our offensive scheme is complex, so you've got to be smart," Taggart said.
"You're going to be asked to change a lot of plays on your own. You have to be a gym rat. You also have to be able to throw the football, complete passes, not turn the ball over. Mike can do all of those things."
While said other schools ramped up their recruiting after he committed to the Bulls. Marshall, impressed by his play in the state playoffs, offered him just before the Bulls did. Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meachem, who recruited White as an Oklahoma State assistant, offered. Skip Holtz, who didn't offer White when he coached USF, did so for Louisiana Tech. Holtz's new offensive coordinator, Tony Peterson, had recruited him at Marshall.
Two weeks before signing day, Mississippi State offered. Offensive coordinator Les Koenning tried to sell him on playing in the SEC. As soon as that offer went public, White became a three-star recruit.
"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's quarterback job for 2013 is wide open with four-year starter B.J. Daniels graduated.
One nationally touted recruit, Winter Park's Asiantii Woulard, orally committed to the Bulls — twice. But he reopened his recruiting after the coaching change and on Wednesday signed with UCLA.
Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd each have started two games over the past two seasons but combined for one touchdown and nine interceptions.
As it turns out, the biggest hurdle to getting White on campus isn't the SEC, but Major League Baseball. The right-handed pitcher has been projected as high as a fifth-round pick in June's draft.
"(Playing pro baseball is) 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."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.