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'Wolf Man' White closes in on Utah rushing record

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 11:12 a.m. MST

In this Nov. 22, 2011 photo, Utah running back John White is shown with a bandage on his forehead after practice in Salt Lake City. This nasty knot on White's forehead has been getting bigger since he smacked helmets with a UCLA defender nearly two weeks ago. Yet don't confuse that with a big head, even for a little guy ranked eighth in the nation in rushing and closing in on Utah's single-season record of 1,507 yards.  (Lynn DeBruin, Associated Press) In this Nov. 22, 2011 photo, Utah running back John White is shown with a bandage on his forehead after practice in Salt Lake City. This nasty knot on White's forehead has been getting bigger since he smacked helmets with a UCLA defender nearly two weeks ago. Yet don't confuse that with a big head, even for a little guy ranked eighth in the nation in rushing and closing in on Utah's single-season record of 1,507 yards. (Lynn DeBruin, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The nasty knot on John White's forehead has been getting bigger since he smacked helmets with a UCLA defender nearly two weeks ago.

Yet don't confuse that with a big head, even for a little guy ranked eighth in the nation in rushing and closing in on Utah's single-season record of 1,507 yards.

"He really does not have an ego," Utah running backs coach Dave Schramm said of the 5-foot-8 junior-college transfer.

White could be seen carrying the pile in the snow against UCLA and bowling over defenders rather than going out of bounds in a 205-yard game against Oregon State.

He's gained yards with defenses stacked to stop him, squirting through to break touchdown runs of 62, 56, 35 and 30 yards.

Now, with the Utes amazingly still poised to win the Pac-12 South with a victory over Colorado on Friday and some help from other teams, they'll need White to come up even bigger than he has since becoming one of the premier running backs in the college ranks.

"What's amazing is in the fourth quarter, he's running stronger and more physically than in the first quarter," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He doesn't wear down. He wears other people out. That's unique for a back that size."

Whittingham knew White was a home-run threat at L.A. Harbor College.

What has wowed him more this season is his durability. In the last four games, White has carried the ball 137 times, including 42 for 186 yards in blizzard-like conditions at Washington State. He averages 125 yards a game.

Along the way, he's passed guys like Jamal Anderson (958 yards in 1993), Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (982 in 1996), Del "Popcorn" Rodgers (1,127 in 1981) and Mike Anderson (1,173 in 1998) — great Utah backs who went on to NFL careers.

He's passed speed guys like Quinton Ganther (1,120 in 2005) and three different Eddies — Eddie Lewis (1,018 in 1985), Eddie Johnson (1,046 in 1986) and Eddie Wide (1,069 in 2009).

As Utah plays its regular-season finale against the conference's 12th-rated defense, White needs 20 yards to move into second place ahead of Dameon Hunter (1,396 in 2001) and 131 to pass the late Carl Monroe, who set the record of 1,507 in 1982 before moving on to the San Francisco 49ers.

"It would mean a lot, mean a lot to my family, too, to make a mark my first season here," said White. "The record was set in 1982, so that's a big thing. No one's beat it since. I'm just trying to get after it."

White will be the first to credit his line and acknowledge wins are better than career stats.

He racked up gaudy numbers in junior college (2,527 yards and 34 TDs in two seasons) but was overlooked by many major colleges and ended up at Utah after being recruited in the Los Angeles area by Kalani Sitake, the team's defensive coordinator.

In spring and summer camp he was just in the mix, with many expecting local standout Harvey Langi or former U.S. national rugby star Thretton Palamo to be the guy.

White, who plays more like someone 225 pounds not 185, won over coaches and teammates with his shiftiness, speed and toughness, and his humble personality.

"Guys like to be around him because of who he is as a person, not what he does on the field," Schramm said. "Before he had any success, he was like that, whether it was with the linebackers or DBs or wide receivers. He's one of those guys. The team likes him."

They certainly like where he has taken them, with the Utes 7-0 in games where White has gained 100 yards.

White's 280 carries are second-most in the nation and his 16 total TDs are tied for first in the Pac-12.

If Utah can win, coupled with UCLA and Arizona State losses this weekend, the Utes will be representing the South in the conference championship Dec. 2.

Heady stuff for a guy who got a tattoo of a wolf on his chest because they roll in packs and eat meat to the bone. It earned him the nickname Wolf Man among teammates and makes for a wild Jumbotron display after touchdowns.

But ask him to howl like a wolf as one TV reporter did this week, and White calls it crazy and politely declines.

While he may not howl, he's always ready to gash and go.

"He has the energy of a 3-year old," offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom said. "He's all over the place. We'll come in for 7 a.m. lifts and everyone's just trying to, you know, fake it until you make it. But John's coming in, bouncing off benches, saying, 'I've been up since 4 in the morning. I'm ready to go. Let's go.' "

White's always been that way, not needing an alarm clock to rise by 4 or 5 a.m., or someone to challenge him on the field.

"It just feels like he's got something to prove all the time and he plays like it," Schramm said. "It's not just every game; it's every single play. He's got a burning desire to be a great player."

That's true whether it's 36 carries in the heat or 42 in the snow.

"You could put that guy in for eight quarters and he'd still be going strong," Bergstrom said. "I don't know how he does it. It's all natural."

White wouldn't divulge his breakfast of champions other than to admit he's not exactly a salad eater.

"I'm pretty much a carnivore," he said. And yes, that includes buffalo.

Even former Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards, who saw White rush for 174 yards against the Cougars on Sep. 17, expects him to break the record.

"The real good ones just have that innate ability to make plays and make it happen," Edwards said. "He's that way. He's not as big as you'd like to have, but all he does is rush for 180 yards a game."

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