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White makes all the right moves

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Will White always has known when to make his move. When he was cloaked in obscurity at Tallahassee's Florida High, a Class A preparatory-type school, he bolted to nearby Godby High for his senior year.

The result? He won the starting quarterback job and led the team to the Class 4A state championship.

When it came time for White to choose his college, he made another quick move. He gave up offers to be a college quarterback and opted for the University of Florida, where he decided to become a safety.

The result? He won a starting job as a redshirt freshman and now, in his sophomore season, leads the nation in interceptions per game (1.0) for Division I.

Like his moves in the secondary, White's career changes all have been made with quick, instinctive decisions.

"I wanted to play a position where I had a future," White said of his decision to give up a shot at playing quarterback at UF.

"I knew Louis Oliver was going to be leaving (Florida) and the (free safety) position would be wide open. A lot of people have dreams of being an NFL quarterback. I just want to make it to the NFL. I don't care if it's as a quarterback or a safety."

If White keeps his current pace, he should have no problem making it as an NFL safety. In 13 career starts, he has eight interceptions, including six in six games this year. White already has tied a school record with three thefts in one game and is one interception away from UF's season record, held by John Clifford (1970) and Randy Talbot (1974).

All of this for a guy who is not even halfway through his college career.

"Will used to be a quarterback, and that's a big part of his game now," said Gators linebacker Ephesians Bartley. "He can look into the quarterback's eyes, see what he's thinking, and know where the ball is going to go. He's breaking before the quarterback even lets go of the ball."

He may play with grace and fluency, but White hesitates and stumbles when he tries to explain his success.

"A lot of it is instinct," he says and then pauses.

"You have to know the tendencies of the quarterback and the receivers, and then you act on it during the game."

Another pause.

"It takes study. I'm not an intense guy. You'll never catch me knocking my head off the lockers before a game. I get comfortable and relaxed before a game and once I hit the field, I'm ready. It's all in the preparation."

One last, long breath.

"It's like my own personal chess match with the quarterback."

To prepare for his game of contact chess, White said he often spends the night before a game lying in his bed, listening to soft music on his headset and visualizing clutch plays.

The preparation and instincts have been White's main allies, his coaches say. While he has good speed and other natural abilities, White is not a dominant physical player.

"It's his anticipation," said Gators coach Steve Spurrier. "He's got speed, but he's not the fastest guy out there. The main thing has been those big plays. He's watched the quarterback, watched the receiver, made his cut and come up with the big play."

Life in Gainesville hasn't been all big plays and accolades for White. He was suspended for three games at the start of last season because of his involvement in a fight at a campus party. He was suspended for UF's last game against Akron for reportedly missing a team meeting.

White, 20, also has had to deal with the death of his father, Willie Davis White Sr., just before Florida's Freedom Bowl appearance last December. His father's initials are written on his wrist bands, and White carries a framed funeral notice with his father's picture in his duffel bag for road games.

"My father's death still hurts. But everything happens for a reason, and I try to look at it in a positive way instead of concentrating on the negatives," White said. "There's nothing I can do to bring him back. There's nowhere I can go to find him. I just have my memories of him. And I've dedicated this season to him."

White says he has tried to avoid getting too caught up in his success this year. He's been ranked No. 1 in interceptions since the second week of the season but says he's not kept a close watch on those weekly statistics.

Of course, all of White's friends go to great lengths to keep him appraised of his lofty standing.

"I went back home over the weekend and visited an English teacher I was close to in high school," White said. "She was asking me if I would consider leaving for the NFL early if things kept going right for me.

"I said "My God, I'm only a sophomore. Why ask me that now?' "

His friends should rest assured on that matter. White will make a sound decision about his potential NFL career. It'll just be a matter of knowing when to make his move.