Quarterback Mike White leads Western Kentucky to a 44-43 overtime victory at Middle Tennessee on Oct. 15 in Murfreesboro. (Photos by Steve Roberts/WKU Athletics)

WKU's Mike White making up for late start to football

Mike White found his first love in baseball, a game the Florida native started playing at 3.

His future appeared to be on the diamond as a right-handed pitcher. As a junior at Fort Lauderdale’s University School, he was named a Louisville Slugger All-American after going 9-2 with a 0.43 ERA. His 6-foot-4 frame and 90 mph fastball intrigued Major League Baseball scouts.

Then White finally got his shot to start at quarterback for University School’s football team after playing behind a pair of college signees. As a senior he guided the Suns to a 13-0 record and their first state title and was named the Class 3A Player of the Year after throwing for 2,201 yards, 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

White then signed to play football at USF, where he was a two-year starter before transferring to Western Kentucky. After sitting out last fall, the redshirt junior is having a career season through eight games. He ranks ranks sixth nationally in passing yards (2,476), completion percentage (69.5) and passer rating (171.4) and has 20 TD passes and only five picks.

“If you would have told me when I was younger that I’d go on to play college football, I would have said you were crazy,” said White, who passed for 2,722 yards with 11 TDs and 16 interceptions in 17 games at USF. “I played summer baseball, so I never had time to go to any football camps and wasn’t really recruited by any colleges until after I got to play as a senior.

“I’m glad I decided to play football because I’m definitely living it up.”

He’s definitely making a name for himself following in the footsteps of 2015 ASN FBS Player of the Year Brandon Doughty, who led the FBS in passing (5,055 yards) and TD passes (48) as a senior. (White and Doughty also have the same private quarterbacks coach, Ken Mastrole of the Florida-based Mastrole Quarterback Academy.)

Last week White completed 28 of 32 passes for 378 yards and four TDs in a 59-24 win over Old Dominion in what was his third-best effort of the season. In a season-opening win over Rice, White passed for 517 yards—the third-most in school history—and three TDs and had the best Week 1 quarterback rating (98.3) in the FBS over the last 10 years.

Two weeks ago, his 391 passing yards and two TDs led the defending Conference USA champs to a double-overtime win at Middle Tennessee. That came a week after he passed for 340 yards and five scores in a shootout loss to Louisiana Tech.

It’s clear White has made big strides since playing as a true freshman (1,083 yards with three TD passes and nine interceptions) and sophomore (1,639 yards with eight TDs and seven picks) at USF. Led by White, receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris and running back Anthony Wales, WKU’s no-huddle offense is averaging 40.3 points per game.

“This offense is a quarterback’s dream,” White said. “My job is easy when I have guys like Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris, Anthony Wales and everybody else while playing behind this offensive line. I’m able to showcase my talents, and I think we can win a couple more championships.”

White has also suffered some setbacks this season. In a Week 2 loss at Alabama, he completed only 10 of 24 throws for 135 yards and threw a pick-six before leaving in the third quarter with a head injury (it was his only TD-less game this year). Two weeks later, his 2-point conversion pass attempt was deflected and intercepted on the final play of a 31-30 overtime loss to Vanderbilt.

In overcoming those obstacles, White has shown some of the toughness that WKU coach Jeff Brohm hoped he would develop this season.

“He’s stood in there and made some throws and found a way to improve his ability to extend the play, which at first he was a little reluctant to do, just because it takes some game time playing to get very good at that,” Brohm said. “In fact, the last few games he extended the play with his feet, had a run or two two weeks ago, completed a few balls on the scramble last week; those are the things you want to see. … Those are all things that you have to do to be a great quarterback, and he’s working very hard at it.”

White has also worked hard to make a difference by preaching against bullying whenever possible.

“I definitely have aspirations of playing football at the next level, but I also want to start an organization to stop bullying through sports,” White said. “It’s just something that really bothers me. I’ve grown passionate about it. No kid should have to go through that, so I want to use my platform to help kids.”

Saturday will be a homecoming for White as WKU (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) travels to Florida Atlantic (1-6, 0-3) for a game on ASN. It will be his first game back in Florida since leaving USF, so he’s expecting a group of family members and friends to be cheering for him from the stands.

White had a chance to stay closer to home after transferring, but following a few phone calls with Florida (as well as Indiana and Southern Miss) he landed at WKU. He still believes giving up baseball was the right call. The same goes for joining the Hilltoppers.

“Going to USF was hard because I was only 18 and got thrown into the fire, but I’m grateful for the experience I got there,” White said. “After two years it was time to move on. WKU was there for me, and I’m definitely happy with the decision I’ve made.”

Joshua Parrott is a freelance writer based in Houston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaParrott.

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