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White turned corner at UH


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POSTED: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In the picture, Jeris White is wearing No. 85 because the best defensive back in Hawaii's history wore No. 85. It was a freshman's number; it was what was given to him when he showed up (like a minor-league pitching prospect being issued No. 85 in his first spring training with the big club). White made the varsity as a freshman. He wore it proudly all four years.

White came out of Radford. He'd been born in Texas, and played two years of Texas high school football, where, he says, “;I learned to be very mean on the football field.”; Then he came to Radford and learned life lessons from legends John Velasco and Jim Alegre. Wrestling coach Bob Frey, who ran Rams football players into the ground the day after games, taught him the importance of conditioning. Those 100-yard sprints are with him still.

In the spring of his senior year, Dave Holmes called, then came over and talked to his mother and father, offered a full ride for four years. White thinks there may have been a couple of jucos after him too, but UH was the only four-year school to show any interest. He accepted. He would play for UH.

But first there was a Hawaii-California all-star football game. “;I think they had it one time, and I played in it,”; White said. “;Lynn Swann was on the California team.”;

In the week of practices he caught everyone's eye. College coaches asked him where he was going. Hawaii, he said. People told him he should go to the mainland instead. He was too good. If things didn't work out, he could always come back home. (The same old story; it's been happening since leather-helmet days.)

He was appalled, when, all week, local people told him the same thing. “;You're always whining about guys who are good who go to the mainland and you're telling me to do that?”; he says.

But no. He would go to UH, and wear No. 85, and hit people.

At Hawaii, he met secondary coach Dick Zornes. “;He taught me how to play corner,”; White says. “;He was technically just sound.”; Sound. It meant everything. “;I didn't realize that at the time.”;

But they worked, and worked, and worked. And at the end of his freshman season, the pros started sending him letters.

It had never occurred to him; he'd gone to school to go to school. But the idea that the NFL was scouting him: “;I just thought that that was the ... Oh!”; The joy rushes through his body even now.

The Rainbows were really, really good in those days. Holmes went 46-17-1 and never had a losing season. In his junior and senior years White paired with fellow Centurion Hal Stringert—White still calls him Harold—and they might have been the best corner tandem in the country, bar none. They both got drafted, both played in the pros, and at UH they shut people down.

“;Harold was a great player and was very smooth, very good technique,”; White says. “;No matter what you write about me, make sure you say Harold was a great player. We played together.”;

They also hit people. White starts a story about a practice confrontation with teammate Golden Richards this way: “;I'm crazy. I'm not going to lie, I was crazy.”;

His senior season, 1973, Hawaii beat Washington, 10-7, at Washington, in what is one of the epic upsets—and still in the conversation as perhaps the all-time biggest win—in school history. But apparently this was not the big deal to them that it is to us. This is just what they did, in those days.

Says White: “;We had Larry Price as defensive coordinator, were we going to wilt? I mean, my gosh. Who do you want to go back to?”; Do you want to go back and take another shot at the big-time, big-conference players in front of you? Or do you want to face Larry Price?

“;Larry didn't play,”; White says. And so, the Rainbows didn't wilt. Harold had three interceptions, Levi Stanley had 16 tackles, Hawaii held on fourth down five times and UH beat Washington.

Hawaii would finish 9-2 that season (and climb as high as No. 2 in the small-college poll) and White graduated in four years and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins.

He stayed with the Dolphins for three seasons, then three with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (he was a starter on the Bucs team that finally won, and made the NFC championship game), and then it was time to move on again. White was back at UH when he ran into Redskins GM Bobby Beathard (Beathard had scouted him for Miami). White suggested the Redskins trade for him, and laughed. But then the Redskins did.

White was a starter for the Washington team that won Super Bowl XVII. It was his last year in the game.

He lives in Washington, D.C., now. White works for Noblis, a firm that does technology consulting for government agencies like the Department of Transportation. Memories of his days at Radford and UH come back easily, and in his retirement he'd like to return home. He says he'd like to mentor young football players and work on a Ph.D. in philosophy at UH. “;No better place to study that than Hawaii,”; he says, “;where East meets West.”;

 


Former Star-Bulletin sports columnist Kalani Simpson played receiver at Dana College, but is a fan of hard-nosed defense. Tomorrow we unveil No. 9. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions.”;