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Sunday, September 25, 2022
Freshman back has pedigree, looking for production

white: True freshman running back James White rushed for 2,568 yards and racked up 45 total touchdowns in his high school career in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He may add kick returns to his repertoire at Wisconsin.

Freshman back has pedigree, looking for production

Freshman running back James White may find himself behind the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year, co-listed as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart with sophomore Montee Ball, but sharing a backfield is nothing new for the talented rookie out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Because he attended high school at the nationally recognized prep football powerhouse, St. Thomas Aquinas in his home town, White took a backseat to another top running back recruit, Giovanni Bernard. White and Bernard, a freshman at the University of North Carolina who is sidelined for the year after tearing his ACL in his first collegiate practice, still keep in touch regularly.

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""We talk every week, almost every day,"" White said. ""Whether it's Facebook or over the phone, we always [talk].""

White and Bernard certainly garnered a lot of attention from opposing defenses, but the depth of talent at Aquinas was not limited to the backfield. White said approximately 10 of his classmates were recruited to Divison I football programs.

""Just in practice you get to play against some of the top recruits in the country,"" White said. ""When you come out on Friday, you're very well prepared.""

After seeing the freshman work through fall camp and the early stages of the season, running backs coach John Settle thinks the early exposure to elite talent has done him well.  

""Once he got here, he showed maturity that not too many freshman have,"" Settle said. ""His ability to just continue to go day in and day out and pick up the playbook without any hiccups, it showed that he's a real football player and a student of the game.""

That ability to pick up the intricacies of the offense quickly and handle responsibilities beyond carrying the ball, like picking up blitzers in pass protection, provided the Wisconsin coaching staff with the faith that White could play early on. His potential to provide an immediate spark to the offense was so clear that it very well could  have had an impact on returning senior running back Zach Brown's decision to redshirt for the year.

""The way he runs is very impressive and he has a lot of natural ability,"" said senior offensive lineman John Moffit. ""To be able to come in here as a freshman and see where the holes are opening up and where you're supposed to hit the hole is very tough to do. He's a very smart kid.""

Another aspect of White's game that makes it compatible to this year's offense is that his most deadly weapons are speed and quickness, a stark change of pace from bruising backs like junior John Clay and Ball.

""He brings a little speed,"" junior center Peter Konz said. ""You can see it because he's so small and he's real skinny. You get the secondary tired and you get the linebackers tired from having to go against us and Johnny [Clay] and Montee [Ball] and all of the sudden you have to chase this little guy, so it adds another dimension.""

Including Konz and Moffitt, the Badger offensive line averages 6'5"" and 327 pounds. Because of his diminutive size—he is listed at 5'10"" and 198 pounds—opposing defenses can have problems finding him before he emerges from behind the wall of linemen.

""It's great because sometimes the defense can't even see behind them, so I use that to my advantage, White said with a smile. ""Once I see them make my blocks I can get to the hole and make my moves.""

Despite the strides he has made since arriving in Madison, White has also experienced the usual freshman growing pains. After picking up 96 total yards on 11 carries and three receptions in his debut against UNLV on Sept. 4, White saw his work load cut to  just six carries for 25 yards last Saturday against San Jose State. Still, he had a chance to get into the endzone for his first time as a Badger on a handoff to the left side, but he reached the ball for the goal line and had it knocked away, resulting in a lost fumble.

Settle said he does not think it will be a recurring problem because White has learned so fast. With a dynamic Arizona State defense coming in to Camp Randall Stadium this Saturday, Settle said the most important thing for White will be to keep from trying to do too much.

""It's going to be very important this week for him to show some patience and let some guys get out ahead of him and help him,"" he said.

That may be easier said than done for White, who will be facing his first marquee collegiate competition on national television and in front of a Camp Randall crowd that is sure to be electric. The youngster thinks he can handle it, though.

""Over 80,000 fans out there,"" White said. ""You can just feel it in your veins and it gets you pumped up and ready to go.""

 

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