Last month, Arizona State senior wide receiver Tim White represented the Sun Devil football program at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles, California.
After finishing third on ASU's team with 57 receptions and second with 633 receiving yards a season ago, the honor of representing his teammates was fitting for White, who will play a key role in the Sun Devils' offense in 2016.
The honor, though, was also a surprise, considering just 15 months earlier, White was inking a post-signing day letter of intent to compete for ASU.
A junior college transfer from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, White was relatively unheralded as a recruit, but quickly developed into a consistent offensive threat for ASU.
Less than a month after media day, White earned an even greater honor Saturday morning.
After three days of fall camp, head coach Todd Graham bestowed a Pat Tillman camouflage practice jersey on White, which is a feat reserved for players who embody the characteristics Tillman demonstrated on and off the field.
"He’s (White) a guy that embodies the competitiveness, I think in the classroom, in the community, the character that he has, so we honored him today by having him wear the Tillman jersey so we’ll see if he can keep it," Graham said.
Keeping the jersey has been a challenge for players who have earned it, as Graham's standards for the Tillman jersey bearers are sky high. White is just the second offensive player to earn the honor during Graham's tenure, following quarterback Mike Bercovici who donned the Tillman practice jersey for a short span during the 2015 season.
White's play during the team's abbreviated three-day stay at Camp Tontozona merited consideration for the honor, as the 5-foot-11, 185-pound playmaker was ASU's top offensive standout from the first few days of fall camp.
Still, when Graham stood up to address his team prior to Saturday morning's practice, White said the thought of earning a Tillman jersey hadn't even crossed his mind.
“Very surprising," White said of finding out about the honor. "I actually wasn’t even thinking about it, and then he (Graham) just surprised me this morning with it when I heard the news."
White routinely burned defensive backs in one-on-one drills and showed well during ASU's team periods during practices at Camp Tontozona and at Rumsey Park in Payson. With new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey calling the shots for the Sun Devils' offense, White should have no shortage of opportunities to get the ball in his hands.
Though White's shiftiness and potential as a home run threat have stood out since the onset of camp, first-year ASU wide receivers' coach Jay Norvell said White's physicality is his most impressive quality.
"Well, he's very aggressive, and he's got great athletic ability, but the thing that you're most impressed with is how physical he is and how hard he plays," Norvell said. "And he doesn't go down easily, he's not an easy guy to tackle. I told him I respect that more about him than the fact that he's really fast and a great athlete, because it's more about his mentality and his toughness than it is his athletic ability. And that's something that can be emulated."
White doesn't have to look far for receivers trying to emulate him. ASU sophomore Jalen Harvey caught four passes for 73 yards last season, but has taken the lion's share of first team reps at one of the Sun Devils' two outside receiver spots.
Aside from playing receiver together, White and Harvey are also heavily involved in ASU's special teams units, and Harvey said the attitude White brings to each facet of the game is contagious.
"Tim (White) is just an all-around player," Harvey said. "You know, he helps me. From special teams, he does a whole lot--and I do a whole lot on special teams--but you know, he motivates me to go hard every play, and he does that every play. When coach asks him to go to this position, you don't hear any complaining from him."
Graham has emphasized the importance of finding players with the potential to ignite a fire and engage the 10 teammates they take the field with on any given snap, but in practice, White has the potential to engage 21 other players because both the offense and defense know White means business.
"He challenges me, you know, because Tim's a fast guy," senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes said. "I'm a fast guy as well, so I was like, alright, it's two fast guys going against each other, who's going to win? Who's going to be the best out of who? Sometimes when he runs his routes, I'm like, here he comes, I've got to make this play. So there will be times when he probably gets the best of me, I'm going to get the best of him. Definitely when I line up in front of him, I know I've got to tighten it up now."
White's success last season was impressive for a junior college transfer debuting at the Division I level, but contextualizing his performance and 2016 potential is a complex matter.
White was limited much of fall camp with a broken bone in his hand, and missed important opportunities to develop rhythm within ASU's offense.
Then, during spring practices, White played wide receiver and defensive back, as ASU explored the idea of putting one of its fastest players at cornerback.
Aside from re-acclimating to playing offense under a new offensive coordinator and learning how to play defense, White also found time to compete for ASU's track and field team in the triple jump.
After jumping a personal best 54 feet, four 1/2 inches at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and finishing fourth, White shifted his focus back to football.
At media day in July, White said he believes he's the best all-around athlete in a conference that includes Olympic hurdler and Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen and Pac-12 long jump champion and USC cornerback/receiver Adoree Jackson.
Considering the days White missed with an injury last fall, the hours White devoted to learning how to play corner and the years White spent mastering the art of the triple jump, perhaps his performance through the first three days of fall camp shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
For the first time in his career, the first 2016 recipient of the Tillman practice jersey is focusing solely on playing wide receiver, and he's determined to make the most of the opportunity.
"It's just a short amount of time to accomplish all of that and it’s just big time for me," White said of earning the Tillman jersey after three days of fall camp. "I just want to keep pushing it and become the best I can be."
Camp Tontozona cut short
ASU elected to cancel its Saturday practice at Camp Tontozona and return to Tempe Friday afternoon in the interest of player safety.
Weather conditions made the field unplayable according to Graham, who was disappointed to cut the trip short.
While Graham has cited poor field conditions and challenging living situations as detriments of Camp Tontozona, ASU's fifth-year head coach has no plans to discontinue the tradition.
"I want to improve things where we can go longer," Graham said. "I would love to be there for the first two weeks, 10 to 14 days. We just can’t do that because we’ve got some work to do to make it better. The rain wasn’t cooperating, just the weather, it was tough, but it was the only thing we can do."
While Graham's vision for Camp Tontozona is somewhat idealistic, he acknowledges the Sun Devils have more pressing infrastructure issues to take care of. ASU is in the process of significant stadium renovations, and the Sun Devils also have a new student-athlete complex in the works.
"We've got a lot of things," Graham said. "There's a lot of things that need to be done, we've got a new student-athlete complex going in that will be done in the spring and a new stadium done by I guess next fall that will be something that will be a priority to have. Obviously for our fans, the unique setting that (Camp Tontozona) is, and for our players."
News and notes
- Texas transfer Ryan Newsome practiced for the first time Saturday morning. The wide receiver announced his decision to transfer last Saturday.
- The media was limited to 20 minutes of access for Saturday's practice after being allowed to view the practices in Payson and at Camp Tontozona in their entirety.
- Linebacker Christian Sam, linebacker Khaylan Thomas, long snapper Mitchell Fraboni, offensive lineman Tyson Rising, center A.J. McCollum, and offensive lineman Marshall Nathe were in green non-contact jerseys today.
- JayJay Wilson continues to condition and has not been cleared to participate in practice yet this season.