An interview with #12 Charles White

Charles White won the 1979 Heisman Trophy after a senior season that saw him average 184 yards per game to lead the nation in rushing. He finished his career as the Pac-10 leader in career rushing yards and was a two-time All-American selection. Click below for a Q&A with this Trojan great.

The position of tailback at USC.  What didn't you know about it before you got there.


"I didn't know the ramifications of playing that spot and what it entailed with being at the top of your game…every week, the notoriety you get for being in that position, the attention you get from your classmates.  I didn't know all those things, I thought I was just gonna go play some football and gain as many yards as I could.  There's so many other things you're thinking of as a young man….the girls, getting out from under your parents roof.  I didn't realize the history that comes along when you step out there wearing that uniform.  You're representing the team, the university. 


My running back coach John Jackson, who is at UNLV now, he used to tell me "you're in some big shoes now, you're in the big leagues".  Other guys would talk to me like John Robinson and Anthony Davis too, it was all part of the same general philosophy that these guys would pass along.  Anthony grew up right next door to my best friend and so of course he had influence in my decision making.  I'll never forget the time he showed up in a Rolls Royce when I was in high school, rolled right up to the front of campus to pick us up.  He took us to get something to eat and I was like, damn, I could have something like this."


What advice would you have for others who want to play the position.


"I would tell them to believe in themselves and the goals that they set to accomplish.  Times have changed, the game has changed and things are different than when I was being recruited.  Recruiting these days is all about SAT's and the Clearinghouse, there's a lot more pressure on the kids.  The game on the field itself has changed, you know, six and seven men in the box.  You're not gonna run the ball on that because you don't have enough guys to protect you to run the ball.  What are you gonna do?  You gotta throw the ball to make them honest and get people out of there so your five people can do their thing."   


Could Student Body work these days on a consistent basis?


"Yes, with the right personnel who know what to do.  Student Body isn't a play you run one time in practice just because it looks good, it's a play you've got to run over and over and over again.  You've got to be prepared for every type of defense you can imagine to make sure everyone knows their reads.  The key to making it work are the linemen and the tight end but the whole offense needs to be on the same page.  Tight end takes his guy, tackle has to know he's getting the next guy and the guard is coming around cleaning up.  The wide receiver's got a tough block because his guy can come from a bump and run and come straight inside, if that happens he needs to move on to the next guy and the fullback takes care of the corner.  This is why you need to practice it so much because there's so many different reads. 


With the back, of course, you're looking to stretch, stretch, stretch the play out.  You want the tight end to just move his guy down the line without getting penetration, if the defender gets penetration that screws everything up because the fullback will probably chip off him as he's trying to get around the corner for his block or the other linemen are pulling and now he's in the way and the play doesn't work.  But if that tight end can stretch things out then what do you think the defense is doing?  It's being stretched out too and that's when you get lanes to run through.  The running back is stretching thing out and once he turns his shoulders and heads up field he's looking for what we call a "spray", he's looking to spray through that lane or that lane or that lane, whichever lane is open based upon the blocks.   Preferably you want to go all the way around the end.  It also works best to run it from the wide side because you want space to create lanes."


You were known as an excellent pass blocking running back.


"That came from being the fullback in the wishbone offense at San Fernando High School.  We ran the wishbone because we had four dynamic backs; Kenney Moore played quarterback, Kevin Williams who passed away, Raymond Williams who went to Washington State and then myself.  I played fullback and in the wishbone the fullback is getting hit on every play so I learned how to block, how to cut, how to read tackles.  You need to read well because you're blocking the first loose man but that man could be the nose guard because you're right there between that guard and tackle and all of a sudden he's right there and, boom, you better be ready cause he's gonna blast you.  I definitely learned to block in the wishbone."


You were known as one of the strongest players around for your size, talk about your workouts.


"Oh wow, it was a lot of work.  Running was my thing, there was a lot of running.  I also think being an athlete who played baseball, wrestling, track…all those things come into play as far as having good endurance and being physical.  You have to learn how to play on the ground as a football player, you gotta learn how to get your ass up when you get knocked down or ricochet off people and get to the right spot.  I'm baffled to see some of the guys today, a lot of running backs can't play on the ground.  This is football, you're gonna get knocked down.  When it happens you gotta dive block or cut somebody, you gotta roll or swing your legs, do something.  All that is wrestling.  I used to coach guys on how to wrestle just so they could learn how to play down there.  Being able to adapt to whatever sport I was playing, that helped a lot to achieve success in whatever I was doing. 


I used to jump rope for 20 minutes.  That's ball busting.  Your arms are dead, your legs are burning, for me that was building toughness.  We used to do the treadmill where you would go on it and every three minutes they would raise the angle.  When I was with the Rams I had one of the longest runs they had seen, I was literally like this (places hand at a steep angle) and the trainers were sitting around just amazed.  There's a lot more things I can't really pinpoint right now because it was so long ago."


As a football player, what does toughness mean to you?


"First of all, you need to have the physical endurance to last a season and the way you last a season is to mentally prepare yourself in the off-season.  I used to work out by myself and I would got out there at 12:00 in the hottest part of the day, one of the things about working out by yourself is it builds the mental toughness in your head because it's so easy to want to quit with nobody out there looking at you.  You need to get that frame of mind that you can't quit.  If I'm coming down to the last hill I'm climbing or the last sprint I need to run, there are times when the mind is telling you "You can quit, just quit, you can stop right here and nobody will know".  The mind plays tricks on you like that but I would just tell myself "I gotta do it, I gotta do it" and then I would see it all the way through.  That's building up for toughness in the football season.  Each week during the season there will be a time, you may be down on the scoreboard or something, and your mind will tell you it's OK to ease up, it's OK to quit, but from those mental preparations in the off-season you've learned how to fight through that.  For me, that's mental toughness.  Of course, you've got to have the ability to handle physical punishment as well, especially as a running back when you're getting hit every damn play." 


Who installed that toughness in you?


"I think growing up in the area I did, my uncles, my older brother.  It came a lot from that environment.  Also, playing football at a young age helped mold it.  It's not something I ever realized but think about it and look back in high school when you and your boys are running laps.  Everybody needed to get in under a certain time or else the whole team would have to run again, you're out there busting your ass but then you may even slow down or do whatever you have to do to help the other guys make it.  Little things like that have a big impact."


Talk about the offensive linemen you had at SC.


"Brad Budde…tough, fast, big, for back then he was big.  Anthony Munoz…devastating blocker, fast and big too, did you know he was a baseball player?  Chris Foote, the center…he had a way to snap the ball and then just waahh (hands waving wildly), he was so feisty and he'd just get all up in the linebacker.  Keith Van Horne, Roy Foster.  We had some people, damn.  Don Mosebar, I mean some of these guys are 2nd string!  They were good for my skills that I had and the one thing I liked about running the ball at USC was you had the chance to run the ball.  With that line you had openings that were like 3 or 4 yards wide sometimes, you get that kind of space and if you don't know what to do with it you don't belong back there.  I would break through that line and my mind would be alert, I'd be on a second level.  They were the ones who got me to that second level."


Talk about your fullback.


"Well, Marcus, he was tough.  He was one of those guys with a long, wiry body and you wouldn't think he was as good of a blocker as he was.  He knew how to lay that Bike on you.  You know the Bike logo on the front of the helmet?  He knew where to put it.  We didn't call him Slab Jr. for nothing.  He's got a big old head, O.J. is Slab cause he's got a big head.  Marcus got a big head too but not as big as O.J. though.  I was shocked at the beginning when John moved him to fullback but he wanted to play, he was a player.  I saw that when he first came to school, it was like "this boy wants to play".  He also had the ability to gain extra yards after he got hit and that's something you can't teach.  He had that skill.  I saw why it was a great idea to put him at fullback because he could run the ball also.  He gained 650 yards one year at fullback, that's not bad.  Plus he was on the field and he wanted to play."


What was it like to practice against the USC defense with Lott, Smith, Johnson, etc.


"When I first got to SC everybody out there was good, I mean f-ing good.  If you were to grade from 1 to 5 they all were 5's.  I remember we used to have #1 defense against #1 offense and we would go at it so hard, it was so damn competitive.  Nobody would give an inch.  You gotta let the offense get a little something every now and then just to help the confidence but these guys never let up. At least let us go into games thinking we can move the ball (laughing).  It was all about trying to make each other better though, me making you better and you making me better.  We were trying to win championships."


What was this week like for you in 1979 as you prepared for the Heisman ceremony?


"I already knew I won.  I kind of liked it back in the day when I got it because they told you the week before and just asked you to keep it hush-hush.  So for me there wasn't any real pressure leading up to it.  I was just excited to go to New York and have a ball."


Is Carson going to win the Heisman?


"I voted for him. I'm going back on Friday to hopefully see him win it."


WeAreSC - How did you choose SC?


Charles White - "My big brother helped me.  He made it real clear to me where I was going.  I had grown up in Southern California, though, in the San Fernando Valley and I always knew about SC because they were in the Rose Bowl game every damn year.  I liked the atmosphere and it was just nice knowing that every January 1st that's where they were gonna be.   


I had a good friend who wanted me to stay close and I also had a grandmother who couldn't really travel, she would watch the games, she didn't know what the hell was going on but she watched them all and I wanted to be close to her.  I was the first of my generation to go to college so that was a big deal.  Plus I liked the uniforms (laughing).  Believe it or not kids think like that.  I liked the stripes on the pants, we had a stripe on our pants in high school and there was something about stripes on the pants that I liked."


What do you think of the new SC uniforms?


"I like them because it's something that's been worn already in the past so it's not like some major change like putting names on the backs of the jerseys.  That would irk the shit out of me."


What are some of the brighter moments for you when you look back on playing at USC?


"To walk out for that first game in that uniform as a freshman and to hear the roar of the crowd.  Even though we got our ass kicked against Missouri that day.  Just to walk out there and say "I'm here, this is unbelievable".  I also scored a couple touchdowns in that game, one on a 76 yard run.  We were getting our butts kicked and they had like their 3rd string in but I didn't care, I mean I was getting a chance to play.  I touched the ball for the first time, it was a Student Body, going left, I got outside heading down the sideline, head wiggling like this (shaking head back and forth) and I'm thinking "I'm gonna score me a touchdown!!".  That was pretty memorable.  The Heisman candidate at the time was Ricky Bell and he had rushed 20 times or so without getting 100 yards and I got over 100 yards in two plays.  I was like "wow, yeah, that was me, a little freshman".  I had a little young thinking in those days, you know.


And to go to the Rose Bowl that first year, like I said I'm from the San Fernando Valley, man, and now I'm playing in the Rose Bowl.  I mean, I'm right out of high school and all my buddies and friends were there watching me play in my own backyard.  Talk about a dream come true.  It was amazing, I thought 76,000 people sounded loud but to walk out that day with over 100,000 and it seems like all of them got on Cardinal and Gold, it was amazing cause they're all there rooting for us.  For me, that was a feat in itself making it that far.    


In 1977 we had the game back in Notre Dame when they changed jerseys.  They brought out this big-ass wooden Trojan horse and, I swear to God, they opened it up and these little leprauchans, about 20 of them come bouncing out.  You know what I'm saying, they're dancing all over the place.  I'm standing there and I'm perplexed.  I was like "Whoa, what is this?"  Then a dark cloud rolled in and it just got ugly, we got our butt whupped.


Going back to the Rose Bowl my junior year to play Michigan, that was pretty memorable.  The yards were tough that day.  They weren't giving me nothing. 


Senior year it would have to be two things.  First was going back to Notre Dame and scoring four touchdowns, rushing for 260 yards on 44 carries.  44 carries against Notre Dame, that's some shit.  So that was a good highlight there but going back to the Rose Bowl again was special too. That was at good as it gets because it was the senior year, we were fighting for the national championship…should've won it, in our hearts we won it.  We played Alabama in the beginning of the season, tore their butts up.  I'm not gonna dwell on that though."


One of your defining moments was the final drive against Ohio State in the 80 Rose Bowl.  Talk about that drive.


"Well, I was sick all during the day but the guys on the team, they just had a sense of urgency in their eyes and attitude. We just said "if we do what we gotta do, we'll score".  I remember Anthony Munoz pointing at me saying "you just run the ball, you just run the ball, we're gonna get the blocks".  Paul McDonald, he was so calm, cool and collected just waving his arms down telling us "simmer down, simmer down, this is what we're gonna run".  He was always waving his arms down.  I can't really remember anything after that.  We just played."


Describe yourself as a running back.


"An in between the tackles runner, physical, and could run all day."


What was your favorite part of campus life?


"Sitting outside next to Tommy Trojan on a hot day watching the girls go by.  Oh man, I'm telling you…."


Talk about the tailbacks this year.


"I think they all have the right stuff for the offense.  Justin Fargas, I think he has the stamina to play week in and week out.  He works so hard, he's hungry because of taking that time off with injuries and transfers.  I saw Sultan when he ran for almost 180 earlier in the season with 39 carries but I don't know if I saw the mental toughness.  Can you do that every week, over and over?  Not that he couldn't do it, he never got the opportunity to prove it or not but what I saw that one day…walking back to the huddle after carrying the ball, his body movements when he got up, you could tell he was tired.  Malaefou, he's just a very versatile back.  He can play running back, he can play tailback, he can play fullback, he can play end.  He's your chess man, he's the guy you want to pressure on the defense with and in this offense that's why he's done so well this year.  I like his skills, he's a blocker, a real competitor. Hershel Dennis, I haven't seen enough of him but he's sure got jets.  You can see that but can he block?  I don't know, the jury's out because he's still so young. I liked what I saw from Sultan with some of his blocking this year, there were times when he was pass blocking and the d-lineman would come off a block and, boom, he would hit em."


What are your thoughts on Pete Carroll?


"I think he's a great defensive minded coach and he's got the right offensive coordinator working with him.  I had to adjust to the offense, that grew with time, and I also understand why they did what they had to do.  It goes back to that six and seven men in the box that we talked about earlier.  You can't do a lot of things with those guys up there so you gotta force them out of there."


Talk about your family.


"Well, there's Ashton, he's got to go in for surgery this next week.  He had a problem in his knee the whole year, it originally happened over the summer in a passing league and when you go into the season hurt it's hard to recover, it's hard to get healthy that way.  He's worried about being hurt with all the colleges that were looking at him but I'm telling him to realize his life has just begun and there's a long way to go.  The colleges know what he can do, they've seen him play enough.  He likes USC and USC has been looking at him but I need to have a talk with Coach Carroll to find out what his status is.  He's got the grades, he passed the SAT, all the Clearinghouse stuff is taken care of, he's got everything going for him.  I think he's gonna go there anyways if he gets a scholarship or not, that's where he wants to go and with me working there the tuition remission is involved.  He just got back from a trip to Colorado State.  I've got two girls in high school at Trabuco Hills, one in 11th grade, one in 10th.  Of course they both want to go to school at USC.  My oldest girl is a mother, I'm a grandpa believe it or not.  There's another son and he's trying to figure out what he wants to do in life, he's got a little time."


How did you get in to umpiring for baseball?


"It started with my son Ashton when he was young and playing Little League.  I was sitting out there one day and they had some kids who were umpiring and the parents were just ruthless on them.  Poor kid, he was just out there, happened to be a body standing around before the game and someone asked if he wanted to make ten bucks by being the umpire and all of a sudden he's got these parents screaming at him.  I even had to go to bat for one of the kids telling one parent "hey, he's just out here trying his best, you know" and the guy wasn't hearing it.  He just kept on yelling but I'm like "it's just a game, these kids are gonna forget about it tomorrow".  That right there got me into it, I started umpiring and I realized I liked it.  It's relaxing.  You're in control of the game when you're behind the plate, instead of calling plays you're calling balls and strikes, and you have to know the game.  It's more than just calling safe or out and it took a little time for me to really understand the game and get somewhat comfortable.  I don't ever want to be too comfortable calling a game where I'm thinking everything is going smooth because baseball is a game of collisions.  A lot of things can happen and you're eyes have got to be roaming all the time. 


I like working with the little kids because I can work with them, teach them the game as we go along, move the catcher up when he's setting up too far back, stuff like that.  I just let the catcher know "move on up there, that bat ain't gonna hit you" and I try to teach them little adjustments.   The coaches, they don't have time to work on too many details so they let you do stuff like that and that way a kid can really learn.  It's good for me too for the catcher to be up because if he's too far back, sometimes a lot of balls bounce before they get to him and he's doesn't always know where it's going so I'm getting balls hitting me all the time.  I plan on taking it to the high school level in the next year or so, maybe start off on JV or freshman ball because they tell me things are more technical at that level.  I just want to take it slow and learn the game the right way.  That's one of the things I like about umpiring, I can just gradually go along and see where it takes me.  I've had people ask if I want to go even further, it's possible, when I become an old dude maybe I will want to move up to college or something like that." Top Stories