Even as recently as a year ago, the idea of Blair White getting drafted into the NFL was a pipe dream. The former walk-on who was hardly recruited out of high school had been relegated to the practice squad and special teams for much of his football career, which almost didn't continue when Mark Dantonio took over for former MSU head coach John L. Smith. White, coming off back surgery to repair a herniated disc, almost wasn't allowed back with the team until he persuaded his new coach to allow him a chance to play.
White took advantage of the opportunity, becoming a core special-teamer and impressing his teammates with his tireless work ethic. So, when Dantonio announced that one walk-on would receive a scholarship, teammate Javon Ringer — now a running back with the Tennessee Titans — spoke on White's behalf, so moving the players and coaches that White earned the scholarship and worked his way up to being the team's leading receiver this past season with 990 yards, nine touchdowns and one really cool hook-and-lateral play against No. 8 Iowa.
About as anti-Charles Rogers and anti-Plaxico Burress as you can get, White actually appeared to have a far better future in dentistry at one point than in football. He has been accepted into dental school — at Michigan, of all places — but has continued to have to put that career on hold as the NFL has come calling. White could be a middle-round draft pick come April.
White took some time recently to speak with PFW about a number of topics, including fighting people's preconceived notions about his game, fighting for his spot on the team, soothing dental music and video games, among other things.
PFW: You had four options out of high school, right? It was either dental school, a football scholarship at Saginaw Valley State, a baseball offer from Albion College or walk-on at Michigan State?
BW: Yeah, that's pretty much the gist of it.
PFW: What made you choose MSU in the end? I know you had a lot of relatives there.
BW: Well, I wanted to play ... some of my friends back in Saginaw were going to Division II schools, MEAC, maybe the MAC. And that was cool. But if I was going to play, I wanted to play big and go D-I in one of the major conferences. So being in-state and having some connections at Michigan State, I chose to walk on there as a preferred walk-on.
PFW: Your mother (Vicki, an All-America swimmer for the Spartans from 1976-79) had nothing to do with it?
BW: That was part of it. I had always rooted for Michigan State growing up, but I would have gone to Michigan because they have a dental school, so the path for undergrad would have been easier. But I kind of figured at that time Michigan was getting bigger athletes, so I figured if I wanted a chance to actually play I should try Michigan State.
PFW: When you came to Michigan State, the odds were pretty stacked against you. Talk about coming to school, then having back surgery your second year and how the coaching change all affected your spot on the team.
BW: Anytime you come in as a walk-on, it's tough because you find a stigma. I didn't really have anything that great going for me. My only positive was that I had decent hands. I wasn't fast; I ran a 4.8 (second 40-yard dash). I wasn't a great jumper, wasn't that quick. I was just all-around average, so it's tough sticking with it. But as I worked, I got better in the weight room and on the field, and every day I just got a little closer and I eventually got to the spot where I had enough confidence to go out there and play with everyone.
PFW: Did Mark Dantonio even invite you for spring tryouts, though? How did you get a chance?
BW: Yeah, well, I had back surgery the summer before (spring) camp, so it was going to be tough on the (new) coaches bringing me back. I'm a walk-on, I just had back surgery ... probably not going to help them that much. But they said if I was healthy, they would bring me back, so I just stuck them to their word, and they kept it. Eventually, Coach D brought me back and gave me a chance.
PFW: Did I hear a story about you camping out outside Dantonio's office to get the chance to play for him?
BW: Well, I think that's a little bit of embellishment there. (Laughs.) Something like that.
PFW: Did you even imagine at that point you'd have a chance to play receiver? Or did you figure special teams were your chance?
BW: I kind of figured that if I wanted to play football, I was going to have to play special teams. There might have even been a point where I figured special teams were going to be the length of it for me. But again, I was really luckly. Devin Thomas went pro, another guy changed positions, two other guys got hurt, so I went from fifth (on the depth chart) to like second. I got an opportunity, so a little bit of luck in there.
PFW: Hard work and luck. Talk about Javon Ringer and what he did for you. Do you think you would have earned a scholarship that year had he not been so supportive?
BW: There's no way I would have. Javon, he was (number) 23, I was 25, so I was right by him and his locker. We're kind of the same type of guy. He's a lot more talented than I was, but (still) he worked harder than I did. He was someone I always looked up to. So, when I had him coming to me and telling me to keep working hard (as I had for) four years, it makes you feel good that a guy with that kind of talent is looking at you. What he said about that scholarship, he was basically my salesman. He had given the senior speech during camp and talked about how I inspired him, and Coach Dantonio kind of got up and announced to the team that I was getting a scholarship. If it wasn't for Javon, I probably would be out on the streets right now.
PFW: Did you have any idea he was going to talk on your behalf like that?
BW: No, not at all. I didn't think Javon would say that about me or that Coach D would ... that was even the first night I had heard about (the fact a scholarship would be awarded). It took me by total surprise.
PFW: There was probably a time not long ago where the NFL wasn't even in your sights. Is it a bit strange to think about having to continue to put off dental school?
BW: My sophomore and junior years, the dental school thing was just so — it looked like it was going to be the route for me. But as football went on and I got more opportunity, it has just kind of taken a backseat, I guess you could say. I still maintain contact with some of the dental schools, so if I am fortunate enough to play long enough in the NFL, I'll do that. But as you know, the average career is like three years. I am just going to have a backup plan and see how it goes.
PFW: What is it about dentistry that you like best? Seems like you have known for a while this is something you have wanted to pursue.
BW: I always have liked the lifestyle of a dentist. You can have a balanced lifestyle with your family and community. And I always liked going to the dentist when I was a kid. I think part of it was that I never had any hard-core drilling going on or anything like that in my mouth. I think that helped. But I was always very organized, a very clean person. The feeling that I get when I go to the dentist's office reinforces that. That's one of the reasons, too.
PFW: Anyone ever call you a strange child? You liked going to the dentist?
BW: Yeah, that's probably an understatement. I was called a lot more severe than just 'weird.'
PFW: What are the harder interviews: NFL teams or dental school admissions?
BW: You know, it's pretty even. I probably would have to go with dental school, though. Just because — and I know the NFL is a job — but it's more of a ... (searching for the right word)
PFW: Businesslike atmosphere?
BW: Yeah. Like at Michigan, you do an interview for eight minutes and there are 10 stations, so you go one-on-one every eight minutes, and it's a pretty wearing process just to keep your nerves down. But it prepared me for the NFL, even though we have the most unique job interview at the Combine.
PFW: How did those interviews go? Anything catch you off guard?
BW: Not really. I was prepared for most of it, I think. The thing I was preparing for; it's not the thing you see on TV — one day, just go run your 40 like you see on TV. You have physicals and interviews and all that stuff.
PFW: You just had your pro day last week. How did it go?
BW: It went well. I vertical-jumped the same as I did at the Combine — 33½ (inches) — which I am kind of disappointed in. But I did 10 (feet) even on the broad jump, which was five inches more than what I did at the Combine. And my 40, I had anywhere from a 4.37 to a 4.48.
PFW: I know you said you wanted to run a 4.4, so you were right there.
BW: I wanted ultimately to get to the 4.3s, but I think that might be kind of pushing it. But I did all right.
PFW: You got a 31 on the Wonderlic test, which is a very high score. But are you mad that another Big Ten receiver, Minnesota's Eric Decker, got a 43?
BW: He got a 43? I didn't even finish 43 questions! Oh my gosh.
PFW: It's one of the all-time high NFL scores for a position player.
BW: Wow, good for him. That's awesome. Yeah, I am jealous.
PFW: Whose GPA was higher, yours or his?
BW: Probably mine, but I don't know if that's as good of an indicator as the Wonderlic.
PFW: You made a lot of plays downfield this year and showed your speed on the field in pads. But are you getting the impression that NFL teams see you as more of a possession guy?
BW: Oh, absolutely. That's one of the main things I get when I am talking to a scout or a coach. They say, 'Oh, you're going to be a good possession receiver,' and I am just trying to fight that and trying to disprove that notion about me as best I can. It starts with running fast, and I think I kind of helped myself (at the pro day), but at the same time, like you said, it's kind of that whole thing of being a walk-on, reliving that where you have to kind of prove them wrong. I am working on that.
PFW: I assume teams also are bringing up the fact that you were a key special-teamer a lot, too.
BW: Yeah, absolutely. It'll probably be one of the key reasons why a team will keep me, just because I'll be able to play special teams and do some things there.
PFW: What's the biggest hit you took on the field?
BW: Actually, it was probably against Montana State, believe it or not. It was the first game of the season, on one of my touchdowns. I caught it and got the wind knocked out of me, but it felt like a lot more than that. I was in the slot, and I think it was empty (backfield), so it was three wide receivers split out to the right and two to the left. I was in the left slot, and I just ran like a fade, like a vertical (route), and (the QB) back-shouldered me. The guy hit me right as I caught it. Big hit.
PFW: Best catch you made last year?
BW: I didn't have any one-handers, which is disappointing. Hmm, my best catch? Probably one against Northwestern. I know you are from Chicago, so ...
PFW: Brag away, man. I have no allegiance to the school.
BW: OK, good. Well, it was one of those catches in that game. I think there were two good ones.
PFW: So, when you do eventually go to dentistry school, are you really considering Michigan? Are you catching hell for that?
BW: Oh, yeah. You know (MSU alum and Patriots QB) Brian Hoyer? He gave me a bunch of flak. 'Big Blue? You're unbelievable, man.' I don't know if you know (former Michigan State QB) coach Dan Enos, who just signed (to be the head coach) at Central Michigan, but he gave me a piece of his mind.
PFW: It's part of the process, I guess. OK, some quick hitters ... Best stadium in the Big Ten not counting Spartan Stadium.
BW: Penn State.
PFW: How far did you have the Spartans going in the Big Dance?
BW: I had them in the Sweet 16 and losing to Kansas, unfortunately. (Note: This interview was conducted before Kansas lost to Northern Iowa.)
PFW: Best Michigan-bashing joke you've heard. If it's clean ...
BW: Oh, yeah, I can tell it. At the last (regular-season) basketball game, when Michigan came to the Breslin Center, I saw a poster that had a picture of (Michigan football coach) Rich Rodriguez and (Wolverines basketball coach) John Beilein that had their records (at Michigan), and it just said, 'Thanks' at the bottom.
PFW: I like that. You won a Michigan state baseball championship as a pitcher/first baseman as a senior in high school. What was your best pitch?
PFW: And in turn, could you hit the fastball?
BW: Yeah, I could. I struggled with the curve, man. It would get me every time. I had a real long swing, so to get the bat around on that curveball ... it just kind of froze me.
PFW: Were you a power hitter?
BW: Mostly power, yeah.
PFW: Well, chicks dig the long ball, you know. So, are you a Detroit Tigers fan? Can they make a run this year?
BW: Totally, yeah. I won't be at Opening Day but at the game the next day. They acquired some guys I am pretty excited about — Johnny Damon — and, of course, (Justin) Verlander got the extension. But we'll see. They always seem to kind of fizzle. So, hopefully they can maintain this year.
PFW: What kind of music do you listen to? I assume your iPod is not filled with dentist-office Muzak.
BW: (Laughs.) Yeah, right. All kinds of stuff: blues, rap, hip hop, a little bit of country. I just started getting into that. I'm into pop. All parts of the spectrum.
PFW: Favorite video game?
BW: Mario Cart for the Wii. Favorite game.
PFW: Who do you spend the most time talking to on your phone?
BW: My girlfriend.
PFW: And how long have you been dating?
BW: About seven years.
PFW: Seven years, wow! Dare I ask if there is an important question coming? Or is that too personal?
BW: (Laughs.) Not too personal. Probably in the future.
PFW: Favorite homemade meal?
BW: Let's go steak and mashed potatoes.
PFW: Are you a voracious brusher and flosser, I assume? Especially after a meal like that?
BW: Absolutely! Any time you have steak, man.
PFW: So, you're as meticulous with the rest of your life as you are with football?
BW: I would say so. Actually, I know so.
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