Posted by DevilsWin! on August 20, 21 at 15:47:27:
As nicknames go, "The Human First Down" is probably as endearing as it gets for a running back, and it took Arizona State's Rachaad White all of four games to earn the moniker.
That's the abridged story, anyway. White's 2020 campaign lasted just four games as Arizona State, and the Pac-12 in general, were beset by COVID-19 setbacks, but he made the most of his first season in Tempe by racking up 571 yards on just 50 total touches -- an astonishing 11.4 yards per touch, hence the nickname -- and led the Sun Devils in rushing and receiving. He averaged nearly 2 yards per touch more than any other player in the country with at least 40 rush attempts. Coaches define an explosive play as a rush of 12 yards or a reception of 16. More than a quarter of White's touches last season were explosive.
In short, White's four-game introduction was as electric as anyone else's in 2020.
"I was just blessed to get four games," White said. "I was just having fun practicing and treating that like it was my only chance, really."
Chances were tougher to come by in 2020 for everyone, as COVID-19 played havoc with the schedule, and White is one of 10 players we're pegging as potential breakouts in 2021 after a sneak peek at greatness last season.
For White, however, the trials of the 2020 season hardly tell the full story. He's no overnight success, and while his Pac-12 résumé is still just four games long, he has proved himself again and again along the way.
Coming out of high school in Kansas City, Missouri, White had a handful of conversations with coaches at FBS schools, but offers never materialized. He was skinny, and he'd largely been used as a receiver. He hadn't found a niche, and no one was willing to take a risk on him. He landed at Division II school Nebraska-Kearney, and he couldn't get on the field, redshirting as a freshman in 2017. Still, he believed he had more to offer.
"I had dreams and aspirations to play in the NFL," White said. "I was training, and I was hurt I didn't get a Division I scholarship, and I started seeing improvement. I saw my body change. And that led to a chain of events that I went to juco."
White transferred to Mt. San Antonio Junior College and, in his sophomore season, ran for 1,264 yards, blossoming into a legitimate prospect. Suddenly he had offers from schools that had ignored him during high school. He landed at Arizona State, where he quickly found himself enmeshed in a backfield-by-committee waiting for a season that almost never started.
"He went about every rep as a professional," running backs coach Shaun Aguano said. "And just watching his fluidness as a runner, but because he was a receiver, also his route-running and his vision and his lateral quickness, the way he one-cuts, we just knew we needed to get him the ball."
White's first game at Arizona State came on the road against USC. He got 12 carries for 76 yards and added 70 yards and a touchdown through the air. Then came the long break. Arizona State didn't play again for nearly a month. White kept practicing, kept getting better. In his next game, against UCLA, he added 106 all-purpose yards. A week later against Arizona, he ran for 133. In the Sun Devils' finale, against Oregon State, White had his best game yet, rushing for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
But, of course, it was just four games. It was a trailer for a blockbuster movie, nonstop highlights that don't really explain the full plot. It was the appetizer for 2021's main course.
"I'm the type of guy where the past is in the past, and if I averaged 10 [yards per carry], I'm trying to beat that," White said. "I'm trying to get better every year."
This offseason, White has bulked up -- he's checking in at 210 pounds now -- and worked on his blocking, where Augano said he'd already excelled, all in hopes of being an every-down performer for a full 12-game season. He's well aware of the challenges of meeting such high expectations and doing so again and again over the course of a much longer campaign.
But White that challenge is what motivates him. Two years ago, he had a dream of playing big-time college football, but he might've been the only one who truly believed the dream could be realized. Now, building on that stellar four-game start doesn't seem like such a tall mountain to climb.
"I know it'll be hard, but that's the type of ballplayer I am," White said. "I always feel like it's not enough."
While White looks like a safe bet for a big 2021, here are nine more rising stars aiming to turn 2021 into a breakout campaign.
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