It's finally official. What has been rumored and suggested for months on message boards, around tailgate parties and in the media has finally been recognized by WVU. Saturday's home finale against USF – the final home game for quarterback Pat White and 18 other Mountaineer seniors – has officially been dubbed a "Whiteout."
The finishing touch came when South Florida officials agreed to let the Mountaineers wear their white uniforms at home. In college football, home teams must wear darker uniforms at home unless given permission to do otherwise by the opposing school.
"I really want to go on record and give a great expression of gratitude to the South Florida Bulls, their Director of Athletics Doug Woolard, their head football coach Jim Leavitt," WVU head coach Bill Stewart said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon at the Puskar Center. "I want to please go on record to express our great gratitude that they have allowed the Mountaineers to wear white jerseys on this final home game for our senior class. Doug Woolard, Jim Leavitt: that will always be remembered in the Mountaineer nation as a class act and a class gesture. I hope they get that message."
Although White's surname was the original motivation behind the promotion from the perspective of fans, media, and just about everyone else, Stewart stressed that this will be a tribute to the entire senior class, not just White.
"This is a team game at West Virginia University," Stewart explained. "Team. T-E-A-M, unlike anywhere I've ever been. We've got the most unselfish, character young men we've ever had in this program at this time.
"This is not a one-man show. This is not a one-man outfit. This is not a one-man story. It's about 18 brothers lifting up a 19th who happened to have the last name of White. That's why we're having this Whiteout. That's as clear as I can make that."
Stewart has spoken fondly of his senior class throughout the season and even in the months leading up to his first full campaign as West Virginia's head coach. After a practice in fall camp, Stewart spoke of walking off the field surrounded by many of the seniors.
Saturday's home finale will mark the end of an era at WVU as White, offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek, wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh and kicker Pat McAfee among others all contributed mightily to the program-changing, fourth-quarter comeback win over Louisville in October of 2005. The Mountaineers went on to win the Big East outright that season, and finished off an 11-1 record with a 38-35 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
The class has also won a Gator Bowl, and shared the Big East title in 2007, capping off their junior year with an upset over heavily-favored Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last January.
"This senior class has done as much or more than any senior class," Stewart said. "We just happen to be led by a guy named White, Patrick White, the greatest winner in college football, who would not be one iota without 18 brothers who have helped him along the journey. Those 19 seniors are why we are having the Whiteout. It's not Patrick White because we're having the Whiteout. It's Patrick White at the head of the class and the entire pyramid system that has helped Patrick White become what he has become. Our senior class would not want it any other way.
"Our senior class loves No. 5. Our senior class, his brothers in arms, absolutely love No. 5," Stewart summed up. "This is for all of them, all of them who helped Patrick White in his journey here in the great state of West Virginia."
Saturday's game will mark the end of Stewart's first season as head coach at West Virginia. Originally promoted to the role of interim head coach in the wake of Rich Rodriguez's departure for Michigan last December, Stewart had the interim tag removed from his title just hours after coaching the Mountaineers to their big win over Oklahoma.
With White back for his senior year, outside expectations were quite high entering the season. West Virginia was ranked eighth in both preseason poll, and was a near-unanimous pick to win the Big East for the fifth time in six years.
Early-season losses at East Carolina and Colorado quickly thwarted any potential run at the national title, and a Nov. 8 overtime loss at home to Cincinnati combined with Friday's loss in the Backyard Brawl denied WVU the conference title for the second time in three years.
Even with the four losses, Stewart is still relatively pleased with his first season at the helm.
"Well, I wanted to have more victories like any coach," he admitted. "A couple of drops and a bad read and we were in a football game we were never in last year. We had a chance to win that football game. I know I'm doing what we should be doing. I know we're heading in the right direction.
"I know we have enough knowledge and enough guts and enough determination to try to put a package together that will take us to even higher levels than we've ever been. Those are my aspirations."