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Mike White hopes to bring USF Bulls a little 'Luck'

One of the brightest parts of Willie Taggart's Monday didn't arrive until 11 p.m.

As he exited the Selmon Athletics Center, Taggart came upon new starting quarterback Mike White, still tucked away in a nearby room studying video.

"I asked him did he have any homework," Taggart said. "I'm like, 'I want you to be a great quarterback, but I don't want you to take away from school either.' … That's great to see."

At that moment, USF's bedeviled coach realized he finally might have a little Luck on his side, maybe because it reminded him of big Luck.

As a Stanford assistant during the early stage of Andrew Luck's college career, Taggart had seen the same kind of work ethic. Now, he was seeing it again, in a similarly rangy body.

"(Luck) was the same way, just sitting there constantly watching film," Taggart said. "You knew it was only a matter of time before he showed everyone what he's capable of doing because he's going to put in the work to learn what he's doing out there. I think that's what it takes to be a big-time college quarterback."

As he takes the national stage tonight at Houston's Reliant Stadium, White, USF's fourth starting quarterback in eight games, doesn't have to be a Luck clone. For now, a condensed version will do.

Coaches and peers insist the 6-foot-4, 186-pound rookie with the boyish countenance, brimming confidence and blazing fastball is capable of flourishing.

"I'm not worried with Mike," said redshirt freshman defensive lineman Daniel Perry, a former teammate of White at Fort Lauderdale's University School. "I've seen Mike do some pretty impressive things since he's been out there. I've seen that kid tear our defense apart. Our defense is pretty good. … I think he can do great things out there."

Though some USF fans grumble about White's redshirt being squandered on a 2-5 team, most have clamored for him since the season-opening McNeese State debacle. With valid reason.

As a University senior, White led the Suns to a 13-0 record, throwing for 2,201 yards and 22 TDs with only two interceptions. In the state final against Madison County, he rallied his team from a 17-0 deficit for a 24-17 win.

That same day — the day Taggart was introduced as Bulls coach — he was offered a schollarship by USF and he essentially accepted on the spot. Before Taggart's arrival, the Bulls had been the first major program to seriously recruit White, who didn't become a varsity starter, nor a Division I-A prospect, until his senior year.

"Certainly you could see the talent that he had," said Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis, who had three college-bound players in a secondary that White shredded in a 42-0 playoff victory last November. "And as you're standing there watching him you're going, 'Why hasn't anybody offered this guy?' "

The reason was simple, said University coach Roger Harriott, who has known White since the player attended Pembroke Pines' Panther Run Elementary.

"He actually bloomed late," Harriott said. "Between his junior and senior year he grew about 5 inches. He really established a strong physical base and he already had the intangibles to do some exceptional things."

Upon his arrival at USF, coaches and players quickly saw what Harriott had trumpeted: physical upside, intelligence decent mobility for a drop-back passer, and lots of velocity.

Before settling on a future in college football, the Suns' right-handed ace was deemed a high-round prospect in the 2013 big-league draft. As a Suns junior, White was 9-2 with a 0.43 ERA.

"We did scrimmages with the young guys and it was almost like sometimes he was a man among boys out there," Bulls offensive coordinator Walt Wells said. "That's when we first started realizing that, hey, he might be a guy that can come into the fold this year."

Tonight, the Bulls will become the fifth American Athletic Conference team to start a true freshman quarterback this year. The most successful so far: Houston's John O'Korn, another Fort Lauderdale product.

Credit the evolution of high school passing offenses and the burgeoning seven-on-seven phenomenon with accelerating the development of young QBs. Even in a short week, White's ready, Taggart said.

"He's really confident, he gets the huddle laughing. He makes some big-time throws," junior left tackle Darrell Williams said. "We have all the confidence in Mike White. I'm sure he has it in himself because he shows it."

USF at Houston, 7, ESPN, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

More than a month has elapsed since the Bulls' last offensive touchdown, in the fourth quarter of the Sept. 28 loss to Miami. By contrast, Houston (6-1, 3-0 American Athletic) is the only Division I-A program to score in every quarter it has played (28) this season. Backtracking to 2012, the Cougars have scored in 35 consecutive quarters. … The Bulls, 6-0 all-time indoors, hope to extend that streak inside Reliant Stadium. On the flip side, they're 0-9 on ESPN-televised Thursday night games. … USF started four freshmen in Saturday's 34-3 loss to Louisville and played a season-high nine in the game. … Houston leads Division I-A with a plus-20 turnover margin. The Cougars have outscored their opposition 144-46 in the second half this year.

Watch out for … Bulls rushing leader Marcus Shaw (hamstring), who has been out since the first half against Cincinnati nearly four weeks ago, is expected to return. Houston's John O'Korn, among five freshman quarterbacks to start for an American Athletic Conference team this year, leads all true freshmen in Division I-A with 19 passing TDs and a 159.0 efficiency rating. Bulls coach Willie Taggart said he might use a defensive player both ways.

Joey Knight, Times staff writer

Mike White hopes to bring USF Bulls a little 'Luck' 10/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 9:32pm]
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