Near the end of their wide-ranging discussion last week at the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl Kickoff Dinner, Chris Blair asked former LSU star Devin White what his ultimate goals in football and life are.
Blair, the Voice of the Tigers, admitted it was a tough question. But White said it wasn’t.
He also didn’t say he wanted to win a Super Bowl or be selected to the Pro Bowl and named Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL. He didn’t say he wanted to maybe become an announcer or a successful businessperson after his career.
This is what he said.
“My thing, what I want to do in life, has nothing to do with football. I just want to be able to serve God in a great way. That’s who I want to be. I want to know that I did the best job that I could when everything is said and done. That’s something my grandmother instilled in me. She told me it should be No. 1 in your life.”
White spent three years as a linebacker at LSU after a stellar career as a running back at North Webster in Springhill. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker last season and was drafted No. 5 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April.
White spent just about 30 minutes during the dinner at the Shreveport Convention Center discussing his life and career to this point.
He talked about the excitement of being drafted so high and the support he’s received from his family, especially his mother, Coesha Standokes-White, and father, Carlos Thomas.
There were some thoughtful moments and also some funny ones.
White got the biggest laugh of the night talking about LSU head coach Ed Orgeron’s motivational skills at the halftime of games.
“If it’s at halftime, I don’t know if he’s motivating us or not,” White said. “You can’t understand nothing he says. If it’s before halftime I know clearly what he’s saying, but after we come in it’s like a bunch of jibber-jabber.”
But he was quick to point out how much Orgeron means to him.
“I love that man,” he said. “He’s always the one that’s going to pull you in his office and make sure you’re on the right track. He treats us all like his kids, like his own boys. He wants the best for us.”
White also talked about his love for LSU and his emotional connection to the fans.
“I wish I had five more years there,” he said. “It was just a blessing to be there. It made me a better person. Every time somebody brings it up I’m always going to advocate so hard for them. One thing about the NFL is they picked me, but for a college, I picked LSU. I could’ve gone anywhere in the country.”
One moment that stands out, he said, is what he called the “Free Devin White thing.”
That came last season after White was ejected from the Mississippi State game on Oct. 20 after making what was ruled a helmet-to-helmet hit on State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
The controversial call was upheld on review. Because of the ejection, he had to sit out the first half of LSU’s 29-0 loss to Alabama two weeks later.
The call prompted a #FreeDevinWhite hashtag on Twitter. More than a dozen billboards with the hashtag were placed around Birmingham, Ala., headquarters of the SEC.
“I’ll never forget that,” he said. “It was good because it showed how much love I had in the state of Louisiana but it was bad because I wasn’t playing.
“I just love LSU. Anything I can do for LSU and be a part of and just represent LSU with class, I’m going to do it.”
Fitzgerald is now one of White’s teammates at Tampa Bay. White said he asked him about the hit, and Fitzgerald admitted that he did some acting. That got another big laugh.
White also offered some advice for families who might be raising an athlete of his caliber.
He said they should simply offer unconditional support.
“That’s one thing that drove me all the way to LSU, all the way to the NFL … Once a kid feels that support, it’s some extra motivation, makes them want to do more,” he said.
“You don’t even have to be in the spotlight or be a big athlete, it can be in school or anything, just let them know you care.”
He said the best advice he could give anyone in any situation is to give “100 percent effort” regardless of what you’re doing.
He also discussed the importance of being a team player. White had some staggering rushing stats at North Webster, but he wanted to get on the field any way possible at LSU. So the move to linebacker, he said, wasn’t that disappointing.
When White got to LSU, the Tigers had running backs like Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. White wasn’t afraid to compete with them, but he also wanted to play.
He said then-LSU head coach Les Miles presented the move as an opportunity to do just that.
“I just wanted to get on the field and makes some plays for the Tigers,” White said. “Because growing up, that’s all I dreamed of was just running out in Death Valley just being able to make a play and being part of that dominant team. I was just thankful for the opportunity for the scholarship on so I was just ready to run into a wall for LSU.”
White said he still considers himself a part of the program and keeps in contact with his former teammates. He left no doubt about how he thinks the Tigers will fare this season.
“We’ve got the best players in the universe, in college football,” he said. “Starting off with (safety) Grant Delpit … I like the way they’re starting. We’ve got a cupcake game (against Georgia Southern) to let them get their feet wet. Then we’re going to go to Austin (to play Texas), and after ya’ll see us play in Austin ya’ll know we’re going to go on and win the SEC West, we’re going to go on and win the title. And we’re going to go on to the college playoffs and we’re …”
The rest of his comments were drowned out by applause. But, spoiler alert, he believes LSU will win it all.
Throughout the discussion, White came across as a humble person, proud to be from North Louisiana.
Though he has had tremendous success already at a young age, White believes his journey has just started.
He knows he has some work to do in his transition to the NFL, that he will have to become a smarter linebacker to be the leader he wants to be.
“You’ve never made it,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out, still trying to do things right. As I said, I want to be the best, and I’m nowhere near being the best.”
Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org