In his first season at Utah, running back John White — also known as the ‘Wolf Man’ — accomplished more than any of his predecessors as he set the school’s single-season rushing record. Now in his second and final year, White has set his sights on making history once again by climbing the career rushing charts.
From an early age, White was the type of athlete who was very comfortable in the spotlight, making headlines. Neighbors in his hometown of Torrance, Calif., not only saw his abilities on the gridiron but were also aware of his reputation on the basketball court.
“Growing up my first love was definitely basketball,” White recalled. “I would play often and usually with guys much older than me. It was really fun, because people would want me to be on their team because I could hold my own against almost anybody.”
Basketball may have been White’s first love, but when he turned six years old his parents, John lll and Vicki White, put their son into an organized football league. White experienced immediate success as a running back.
He continued to perform at a high level as he entered high school, and upon finishing his freshman year, White gave up basketball to focus his attention entirely on football.
As a senior at Torrance High School, White rushed for 1,850 yards and 29 touchdowns, earning all-conference and all-state accolades. A large interest in White grew among Division l programs, and he quickly became a highly-recruited running back.
Unfortunately, White’s journey to stardom was sidetracked when he failed to meet Division l academic requirements. He then had to decide whether he should give up on football and possibly not attend college or enroll at a junior college. It was a decision that would drastically shape his life’s course.
“It was so hard on me when I didn’t get that scholarship I wanted,” White said. “I wanted to quit for a while when I couldn’t go play Division l right away. Inside I felt that I was good enough to play at the next level, but I was demoralized and felt maybe I didn’t have the whole package that would allow me to play.”
With the support of his parents, White chose not to give up on his dream of playing major college football and enrolled at L.A. Harbor College.
“I really thought about things for a while,” White recalled. “I knew my family had done so much for me. My parents had supported me so much growing up and would go out of their way to take me to practice and do all they could to put me in the best schools. I felt that I couldn’t give up on them, so I got my priorities in order and enrolled in junior college. It turned out to be one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.”
Refocused on his ultimate goal, White earned his associates degree in a year and a half by attending classes year round. Not only did he do well in the classroom, White was also named the Central West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He broke multiple school records from 2009-10.
White’s play caught the attention of several major college programs, especially Utah.
“Coming out of junior college the recruiting experience was completely different,” White explained. “Many schools are no longer interested because you only have two years of eligibility remaining. Utah came in and they were very interested in me.
“I really liked the fact that Utah was moving to the Pac-12 Conference because then my parents would be able to see me play more often,” White continued. “I also liked how the Utah coaches never talked down about other schools. But most of all, I really have to thank coach [Kalani] Sitake for recruiting me, because he told me that he liked to recruit offensive guys that he wouldn’t want to coach against. Soon after, I committed and have been really happy with my decision.”
White made an immediate impact at Utah last season, rushing for 1,519 yards to break a 30-year-old school record. He set another school single-season mark by scoring 15 rushing touchdowns. White’s performance earned him second-team all-Pac-12 and honorable mention SI.com All-America recognition.
“I know some people get big heads from gaining a lot of attention,” White said. “I could never do that though. There is always somebody out there that is better than you. When you get arrogant, that is when you think you are better than the team and ‘team’ is what it is all about. Without the linemen I can’t run the ball, and without the receivers I couldn’t get up to the second level to make those big plays and score the touchdowns that I did. Everything that was accomplished last season is credit to a team effort.”
While he was rolling up yards on the field, White’s passion for wolves came to light. He was dubbed the ‘Wolf Man’ by his teammates and the media.
“Everyone has a favorite animal and mine has always been wolves,” White revealed. “I like how wolves work as a pack and are just so dominate. People fear them because they stay as a group and have a strategy against their prey. Before all of the hype happened, I got a tattoo of a wolf on my chest. One day after practice I had my shoulder pads off and people saw it. My teammates gave me that nickname and the media heard about it, and from then on it has stayed with me. But I don’t mind at all. I think it is really cool to hear the Rice-Eccles [Stadium] crowd howling at the games.”
In his final year, White hopes to have the fans on their feet, howling as he continues to pile up rushing yards and touchdowns. Through three games, White is averaging 77.7 yards per game to rank sixth in the Pac-12. Despite missing the BYU game, his 65 carries ranks fifth in the conference.
Regardless of how many accolades he earns during the 2012 season, White will leave Utah with a degree in sociology. Once his football journey is over, White plans to enter a career working with children.
“I will be the first one in my whole family to have earned a college degree, and it means a lot to both me and my family,” White said. “I couldn’t have achieved what I did without so much support from my family. I am so grateful for everything they have done for me and the support they have shown. I know that football helped get me to where I am, but in the end performing well in the classroom and getting good grades is the most important thing.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company