LB White not looking back

Days as RB behind him

The trophy case is bright and shiny, set in the relatively new North Webster High School in Springhill, a small town so far north up in western Louisiana that it shares its city limits with the Arkansas border.

That trophy case contains a relic from way before the school consolidated with several even smaller outlying towns, when Springhill High was the Lumberjacks and the school building was located in what is now a vacant lot across U.S. 371.

Long before he was star linebacker for LSU, Devin White always wanted to be a Lumberjack, as both of his parents had been.

He had to settle for being a North Webster High Purple Knight — the mascot also changed with consolidation — but that trophy case, which still houses some Lumberjacks’ remnants, caught his eye every day on the way in.

Behind the glass was the musty old 1953 state championship Lumberjacks jersey worn by John David Crow, who went on the win the 1957 Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M.

Seeing it every day allowed a youngster to dream big. How big?

“I want to go down as the best linebacker ever at LSU,” he says.

He stays true to his Springhill roots, even bringing his horse along to Baton Rouge and stabling Daisy Mae not far from the LSU campus, where he can visit every day in his well-worn cowboy boots.

He’s not likely to give Springhill a second Heisman winner — linebackers need not apply for that bauble.

“He’s still a legend in this town,” White says of Crow. “We did play in the same stadium. I know I haven’t won the Heisman. But I’ve got a shot to win the Butkus (which goes to college football’s top linebacker) and I don’t think anybody from my school ever did that.”

But who knows what might have happened if he’d taken a different fork in the road when arriving at LSU?

The Tigers have a preseason first-team All-America at linebacker — that would be White — while the biggest question mark on the team, for the first time in decades, is at running back.

Those question marks might have been reversed.

In high school as a legendary four-year, two-way, man-amongst-boys player, White was probably more renowned as a running back — “I was pretty much unstoppable,” he says offhandedly — who ran for 5,031 yards and 81 touchdowns while also tackling everything in sight on defense.

LSU just knew he’d play somewhere when then head coach Les Miles offered a scholarship at the age of 14.

And …  “When I committed I was heavily thinking running back,” White says.

When he arrived LSU still had both Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. That didn’t scare him — “I like competing against the best.”

But his pee wee league coach, Shaun Houston, who lured him into football as a youngster and has remained close, eventually convinced him that linebacker was his better position.

So Miles probably wasted a lot of time on his speech to steer White toward defense.

As White remembers it, Miles was just about at the point when he says, “You can do whatever you want to do, but I’m just putting this on the table …” when White interrupted him and said he wanted to play defense.

Miles, with half his persuasion pitch unused, was pleased.

And it’s obviously worked out for everybody concerned.

White didn’t start as a freshman but was no stranger to the field, then as a sophomore led the Southeastern Conference with 133 tackles while making first-team all-conference and second-team All-America. Last year he was also the first player in history to win the SEC defensive player of the week honor four times.

“The last time I had a sophomore like that was Warren Sapp at Miami,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said.

“I don’t worry about running back anymore,” White says. “I just want to keep getting better at linebacker.”

Well, he doesn’t think about it a whole lot.

But his success on defense hasn’t stopped him from lobbying for offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger to at least make room in the goal-line offense for a 6-foot-1, 240-pounder in the backfield. If it was up to White, in fact, he’d also get in on some special teams and never leave the field.

Regardless, White will have an impact on all three factions as one the team’s unquestioned team leaders.

It was White who did most of the talking in last week’s players-only meeting after the transfers of quarterbacks Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse.

He’s been the team’s leader since last year’s crisis following the crisis loss to Troy, when he took over a players-only meeting, for the first time, really.

“In high school it was understood that I was the leader,” he says. “But here, I’d say, really after the Troy loss was when I knew I was a leader.

“After that Troy game, I couldn’t take it anymore and I knew I had to do more. Coach Orgeron talked to me, told me I needed to be more vocal, needed to get people in order.”

He backed up that Troy speech immediately, with back-to-back SEC player of the week honors as the Tigers turned their season around with wins at Florida and at home against Auburn — a pair of games in which he combined for 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

“I was always comfortable with being a leader,” he says. “Always have been. But when you first get to college, you’re in a new setting … at first I just wanted to lead by example. I made (defensive) calls and such, but I was really telling anybody what to do.

“Being a middle linebacker, you have to be the quarterback on defense.”

Quarterback?

Maybe he could give that a shot, too.

””

LSU linebacker Devin White is a preseason Associated Press All-America who has emerged as a leader on the field and in the locker room. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Brynn Anderson