TALLAHASSEE — Florida State junior defensive end Markus White sees the crescent-shaped scar under his left eye as a blessing.
Before a practice early last month, he suffered a seizure — something he has dealt with sporadically since the seventh grade — in the locker room. Apparently, he fell and hit a cabinet. It's just a guess. He only remembers walking toward the cabinets, then nothing … until waking up in an ambulance.
"Every time I look in the mirror, it's like, 'Okay. This is all I got,' " White said, pointing to the scar that's more of a discoloration. "It's kind of like a gift."
He wasn't taking his medication as prescribed.
He now has a vivid reminder of the possible consequences.
"I've got to take that medication if I want to be all I can be," he said.
White, a one-time Rutgers signee out of West Palm Beach Leonard High and transfer from perennial powerhouse Butler (Kan.) Community College, has the look of someone who can be a star.
Although he's still refining his technique and mastering the FSU scheme, the speedy and powerful White enters this weekend's ACC showdown against Wake Forest tied for third on the team with five unassisted tackles and fifth with 11/2 tackles for a loss. And he has not started a game.
"You see him getting a little bit better every day," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "When he gets (the scheme) down, he's going to be in that class of the guys we had back in the '90s. You can mark that down."
An academic setback
White wasn't highly recruited out of high school for one big reason — his grades; grades that made him ineligible as a sophomore and would later necessitate a higher score on the SAT to meet college admissions.
He visited only Florida Atlantic and Rutgers, signing with the Scarlet Knights but learning before the start of the 2006 season he hadn't qualified. He spent that fall watching Rutgers' football games on television, hiring a tutor to help him prepare to retake the SAT and working at a Hyatt hotel to help pay his bills.
"It was tough on him. It was tough on me," said White's father, Andrew. "He kind of wanted to come home, but he also wanted to stay. He wanted to gut it out."
White didn't get the SAT score he needed, finally left New Jersey and returned home for the Christmas break, which is when he decided he would go to Butler. The junior college had offered him a scholarship and a chance to show folks what he could do on and off the field.
He not only earned his associate degree in a year and a half but was named the national junior college player of the year in 2007. FSU coaches fell in love with his size (6 feet 4, 241 pounds), his linebacker-like burst (4.55 in the 40), his basketball-like hops (a 30-inch vertical leap that he loves to show while dunking in pickup games), his propensity to make big plays (241/2 sacks and six forced fumbles last year) and his passion.
"His motor goes all the time," coach Bobby Bowden said. "He doesn't idle down."
But when he does …
'Freaked everybody out'
White matter-of-factly rattles off the particulars of his first seizure.
"Seventh grade. Science class. I felt like I fell asleep. And I was never a kid to fall asleep in class; not in middle school," he said. "I woke up in the hospital, and that was that."
Doctors and specialists have not been able to pinpoint why his seizures occur.
Dr. Robert Cantu, the chief of neurosurgery service and director of sports medicine at Emerson (Mass.) Hospital and a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, said about 1 percent of the population suffers seizures and participation in sports isn't usually precluded. White's father has surfed the Internet for answers or even theories of possible causes, light, bad eyesight, anything.
What he has found is numerous athletes, including football players such as former Seminole star Samari Rolle, haven't had seizures threaten their careers. Of course, taking their medicine was critical to control the frequency of seizures.
"I just hated the fact that I had to take medicine at such a young age," said Markus, who admits he "slacked off" at times.
He had another seizure in high school, one while in Kansas then the one in Tallahassee. Although he said he told his new teammates beforehand about his history so they could "look out for me," they were understandably unnerved.
"It freaked everybody out," defensive end Everette Brown said. "But he's doing what he's supposed to do."
White actually returned the next day to practice and said he has had no side effects. And yes, he's conscientiously taking his medicine even as he politely fields questions from other students about the scar.
"It's scary for me," White's father said. "I wish it would go away. I wish it would go away today, this second. It's not happening. I don't want to nag him about taking the medicine. Sometimes you nag and you make it worse. But I think this has been a wake-up call."
"This isn't a joke, and this can be taken away any time," Markus said. "It's motivation."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.