Sliding For Safety

Before he was became the head coach at West Virginia, Bill Stewart repeatedly tried to convince quarterback Patrick White to avoid punishment when he could. However, White's approach to the game simply wouldn't let him consider getting down on the ground when more yardage might be gained.

From Stewart's perspective, he wanted to preserve White as much as he could, and have him avoid the bangs and bruises that come from being crushed and piled upon by frustrated defenders, who spend much of the game playing Wile E. Coyote to White's Roadrunner. A slide here, a step out of bounds there, and White might not be as beaten up as he has been at the end of the previous two seasons.

However, that idea is totally contrary to White's approach to the game. While he doesn't like getting hit any more than the next person, he does know that there's value in every yard he gains. And even when confronted by three or four defenders, there's always the chance of yet another eye-popping shake and bake that could result in a big gain. Giving up that chance, no matter how small, is just something in White's makeup. This year, however, with Stewart elevated to the head position, a new voice in his ear in offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, and urging from his primary protectors, White has finally acquiesced. A little. Center Mike Dent was the primary convincer, assisted by the rest of his teammates up front.

"The offensive line (convinced me to start sliding.) They care about me," White said. " They're kind of like my guardian angels. It's helped me to not hurt as much on Saturday night and Sunday after the games."

Deciding when to get down is a tough choice for a competitor like White, who rips off highlight reel plays with numbing regularity. His third-and-24 run at UConn, in which he floated left and tiptoed down the sideline for a momentum-shifting touchdown was just the latest in a long list of plays that few others could make, and it's the idea of those runs that keeps him from giving up on any play. Used judiciously, however, the slide or step-out could well pay dividends in the form of a healthier White in the final five games of his career.

Another change in that direction is the glove that he has been sporting on his passing hand in recent games. White wore a glove during a cold day practice session to protect a thumb injury, and he has worn it against Auburn and Connecticut. Although he did struggle throwing the ball during the first half of the UConn game, he appears to be sticking with it. Ever one to use as few words as possible during interviews, White merely said, "I hope that it's made it better," in regard to both protection and passing.

White hit his hand on a Colorado defender's helmet on WVU's road trip there, and re-injured his thumb during the Mountaineers' victory over Marshall. After suffering a direct hit to the head in the Rutgers game, which kept him out of the following week's contest against Syracuse, White was fitted with a new helmet designed to offer greater protection against concussions. The new helmet, which is larger than most current models, offers more padding and more protection of the jaw area.

Thus armed with both increased protection and a slightly different outlook on the game, it's hoped that White will be healthier as West Virginia heads down the stretch. However, no matter what, he's not going to shy away from contact if that's what will help his team win. Stewart related an exchange he had with White after the quarterback ended up as a lead blocker for Noel Devine.

"It was one of those where Noel reversed his field, and here comes Pat blocking a guy all the way out of bounds. Just rode him right out," Stewart related. "I grabbed him by the arm and asked him what he was doing, and he said, ‘Playing football, Coach.' That's the kind of player Patrick White is."


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