The Other White
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Kevin White was sitting in his living room watching last Saturday’s West Virginia-LSU football game on television just like everybody else around the country.
When things took a turn for the worse for the Mountaineers midway through the fourth quarter and ABC announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit were running out of material to use, Musburger steered the conversation toward some of the unforgettable moments in Mountaineer Field history.
Then Musburger began mentioning West Virginia’s great victory over Penn State and that’s when White sat up in his chair to listen more closely.
Would Musburger actually say his name on national television? Should he go wake up the kids?
Searching deep in his mind for specific details, the 71-year-old announcer brought up the mob scene on the field and sixty-something Penn State coach Joe Paterno high-tailing it to the locker room with time still remaining on the clock. Musburger talked about the great atmosphere at the stadium that evening and how that environment was matched by the tremendous turnout for the LSU game he was describing.
But the one detail escaping Brent was the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback. Musburger threw out Jeff Hostetler and the much-younger Herbstreit, recalling the 1988 game (the one Musburger called), corrected him and said he thought it was Major Harris.
Major Harris did quarterback that fantastic ’88 win over Penn State, but of course any dyed-in-wool Mountaineer football fan knows West Virginia’s starting quarterback in the ‘84 Penn State game - the one we think Musburger may have actually been referring to - was Kevin White, perhaps the most unlikely big-game quarterback in West Virginia University football history.
Not only did White manage to accomplish something his predecessors Hostetler, Oliver Luck, Dan Kendra, Bernie Galiffa, Mike Sherwood, Allen McCune and Jerry Yost couldn’t do – beat Penn State – he also led WVU to unforgettable victories over fourth-ranked Boston College (and Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie) as well as a solid Texas Christian team in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl.
What White achieved during his senior season is a phenomenal feat when you consider his humble beginnings. White was not exactly a hot recruiting commodity when he finished his senior year at Casa Grande Union (Ariz.) High in 1981.
“I played for a very unsuccessful high school team and I shared in our lack of success – with lots of support, I might add,” White joked.
White stood just 5-feet-11 and barely weighed 160 pounds, but that didn’t deter his high school coach John Kashner from shopping him to every college football coach he knew on the East coast. Kashner probably figured it was much easier to get a school to bite on a player they hadn’t seen in person.
“That guy went out from college to college, and of course he was also making his contacts and having a good time with his old coaching buddies,” White said.
“He knew (WVU assistant coach) Bill Kirelawich and he made a stop at West Virginia, made his spiel and they expressed interest, but really they had a lot of guys in front of me,” White said. “Then lo and behold they had a couple of back-outs and I was the last little puppy in the litter, and they called up after signing date and asked me if I wanted to come.”
White was expecting to go to either Lehigh or Villanova when the call from West Virginia finally came. Outside of the things Kashner was telling him, White knew next to nothing about West Virginia University.
“They had played Arizona State out here in maybe my junior year (1979) and the coaching staff came down to see Kashner and I had a little contact there, but I didn’t know much about them at all,” White said. “I had to get out the books to figure out what the heck I was getting myself into.”
A lifelong Arizona native, White had never seen snow before, and he also had never witnessed the caliber of quarterbacks that West Virginia had on its roster when he first arrived on campus in the summer of ’81. Luck was entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback and sitting out that year was Penn State transfer Jeff Hostetler. It was one heck of a quarterback room to be sitting in.
“I remember the first time I saw Jeff,” White said. “He is a pretty imposing physical specimen, and here I was about a buck-sixty, a buck-sixty-five, scrawny, and he was bigger, faster, smarter, stronger, but other than that, we were about equal.”
“This guy comes in 5-11 and a 155 pounds and I’m saying, ‘Holy mackerel, who are we going to beat with this guy?’” Nehlen recalled.
White understood right away that he was going to have to step up his game considerably if he ever hoped to see the field.
“Part of the reason I never really developed in high school was I hadn’t been around role models that were good quarterbacks,” White explained. “I had great coaching, but I also had great role models sitting around watching those guys play. I even ended up mimicking some of Oliver’s tendencies just because, obviously, things worked well for him.”
But things were not working out well for White.
He saw spot duty as a sophomore in 1982 when a beat-up Hostetler couldn’t play in a couple games that year, rode the bench his junior year in 1983, and was beat out by junior Tony Reda for the starting job at the beginning of the 1984 season.
Reda led West Virginia to a 38-0 victory over Ohio U. in the ’84 season opener and also got the starting nod against Louisville in the second game, but struggled early and was replaced by White in the second quarter.
White ended up completing 6 of 8 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in a fairly routine 30-6 victory over the Cardinals. What White remembers most about that game was finally getting even with Louisville quarterback Andy Woodring, the big-name player from White’s area who mercilessly beat his Casa Grande team when the two were still in high school.
“They had totally humiliated us in a game 60-some to nothing,” White laughed. “Here it was I was the backup quarterback with a chance to maybe play against this guy and get my revenge after all those years.
“So right before the game I walked into the training room and sneaked on the phone and called my dad and I said, ‘Dad, you will never guess who is playing quarterback at Louisville. Somehow, some way, I am going to get into this game and I’m going to get my revenge against this guy!’ I’d be damned if it didn’t fall right.”
Andy Woodring, now there’s a name to remember.
What made White so successful at WVU is that he understood his strengths and limitations as a quarterback, and he didn’t try to do the things his immediate predecessors did on the football field. In short, he knew how to be Kevin White.
“I knew those were special players and I understood I wasn’t them,” White explained. “As much as I wanted to emulate them and try and do the things they did, I wasn’t them. I don’t know if I felt pressure (to perform the way Luck and Hostetler did), but there was always a sense of having big shoes to fill and big expectations, but the season went pretty darn well.”
It certainly did.
White engineered big victories over Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and Penn State, and had the Mountaineers in the Top 10 in the national rankings for the first time in years before the roof collapsed. Injuries completely gutted the team and West Virginia dropped its last three regular season games to Virginia, Rutgers and Temple – the Rutgers and Temple defeats coming by a combined six points – and WVU was relegated to the now-defunct Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston to play TCU instead of a possible Orange Bowl invite.
In the Bluebonnet Bowl, a completely healthy Mountaineer team ran Texas Christian right out of the Astrodome, White passing for a career-high 280 yards and three touchdowns against the Horned Frogs’ overmatched secondary to earn game MVP honors.
“Kevin White turned out to be a lot better than we ever thought,” Nehlen admitted years later.
White graduated cum laude in political science from WVU in 1985 and interned two years for Sen. Jay Rockefeller in Washington, D.C. before earning his law degree from Arizona State in 1989.
In 2002, White was appointed judge pro-tem in Florence, Ariz., and served in that capacity until 2005 when Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him Pinal County Superior Court judge.
“I’ve been doing this for seven years now,” White said.
White married his college sweetheart, former WVU gymnast Cathie Price, and the couple has three children: Sarah (12), Roma (10) and Kevin, Jr. (seven).
White is one of the former quarterbacks returning to Morgantown for the Don Nehlen Endowed Scholarship Weekend. His wife Cathie will be joining him for the festivities, beginning with golf and a reception at Nemacolin Resort on Friday.
Saturday, White will take part in the Mantrip with the Mountaineer team and he will also be available for autographs at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility before the game.
“I have been exchanging emails with Tony Reda all week,” said White. “I’m really fired up to see everyone.”
If you get a chance to meet Kevin this Saturday, be sure to ask him about that 1984 Penn State game. Who knows? He may also give you some free legal advice, too.
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