A Competitive Approach

After building up his strength in the offseason, Wisconsin junior running back James White was one of the offensive stars of Saturday's scrimmage. Even with a Heisman Trophy finalists in front of him, White is showing the coaching staff that he deserves to be on the field.

MADISON - He was a consensus Big Ten Freshman of the year, tied the Wisconsin freshman record with four rushing touchdowns in one game and his average of 6.74 yards per rush ranked second-best in school history. Those are past accolades that would make James White an attractive starter at a number of schools around the country … except Wisconsin.

And yet, White is OK with playing second fiddle for the season year in row for two reasons. One is that is competing with and learning from Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball. Second is that there are few schools in the country that love running backs as much as the Badgers.

Despite Ball tearing up the record books, White finished second in the team with 713 rushing yards and third with 1,178 all-purpose yards. Now with a new offensive staff, White is seeing offensive coordinator Matt Canada finding new ways to get him on the field.

Before unofficially rushing for over 100 yards in Saturday's scrimmage, White talked to Badger Nation about the two-back system, his offseason conditioning program and his confidence moving forward.

When you heard Montee Ball was coming back, were you excited or were you a little bummed because you knew you'd likely be in a reserve role?

White: At first, you want your opportunity to be the starting running back. But when you really think about it, it really helps the team out and it helps me out, too. I get to learn a little bit, he helps our team, he helps our offense and we get to do this two-back thing that I am really excited about. Montee helps our team be that much better.

I'll get to the two-back offense in a second, but was last year hard for you after your great success your freshman year? I mean you didn't have a bad year last year looking at the numbers, but was it hard from a confidence standpoint and be a competitor?

White: At first it gets a little hard on you. Then again, I knew he was doing a great job. I was just waiting my turn and when I get my opportunity, I am going to have to make the most of it. The coaches have to go with the hot guy and he was hot the whole season. I just tried to make something happen when I could.

People in your position would waver and think they could go somewhere else and succeed right away, especially having a redshirt available. Did you ever have that inkling?

White: (shaking his head) Never. Is that because you were just comfortable with your decision here and the success you guys have had?

White: It's just another chance for me to build and having another good person like that to compete against is only going to make be better as a football player.

Talk about now the two-back system you are working with after running it a little bit last year. How did it work last year and how has it evolved this year with a new offensive staff?

White: Last year we pretty much had one formation and it was just me going in motion. The same with the jet sweep, and we only ran it one week and one time against Indiana. This year we have a bunch of different looks and things like that with me or Montee lining up at fullback, me or Montee lining up at receiver or both of us lining up at receiver. All different looks to give the defense different looks to make it easier on the quarterbacks.

When did the coaching staff bring that offense up to you guys?

White: When Coach Canada got here, he talked about it right when we started spring ball. He said he wanted to put it in after spring break. It's gone pretty smooth so far.

That's got to make you excited that they are trying to find ways to get you on the field with different packages?

White: It is very exciting. I like catching the ball out of the backfield, and it's something else to put in my archives. It's fun to go there and catch the ball, block and keep the defense off balance.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you were quite the pass-catching running back at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) HS?

White: Yeah. We did a lot of different things like that. We even ran a little of the two-back system. We did all kinds of things.

How did you approach his winter in terms of getting your body right and still keeping your speed?

White: I just read competed in the offseason and be more of a leader. I may not be the most vocal person, but I want to lead by example. All the good things that we did during the offseason with our station work was good because we were competing against somebody else in every single drill that we did. Going against people in your open position and against people from other positions helped us see who is going to compete who is not going to compete. That really helped a lot.

In the weight room, I was just trying to get strong as I could in the squat rack and on the bench. I was just trying to make the most out of everything.

Who did you compete with?

White: I competed against Jeff Lewis, Marcus Cromartie and Jeff Duckworth, so it was a whole different variety of people. It was pretty fun.

Talk about going against a fellow running back or a defensive back. How much fun is it competing against those kinds of guys?

White: It's fun because you have to go out there with the mindset that nobody is going to beat at anything you are going to do. Sometimes a guy might have an advantage, but you have to say in your head that this guy isn't going to beat you. You just have to go out and give it your all, because you never know what may happen.

Are you in the best playing shape of your college career right now?

White: I feel pretty good. I feel like I am in pretty good shape and better than I have ever felt. I am just going to try and go out here, keep my body healthy and keep working hard.

Do you have to be in that good of shape with guys like Lewis and Melvin Gordon hot on your heels?

White: Those guys are going out and competing each and every day. They want to get out on the field just as bad as I want to get on the field. You have to go out every day, not take anything for granted and take advantage of your opportunities when you get them.

What's your weight at now?

White: I am at 195. I feel a lot stronger and I can even get faster. I just wanted to get my strength up because I was at 205 last spring and I didn't feel right. I got down to 195 to build my strength and I feel a lot better.

How has the dialogue between you and Thomas Hammock changed from his first year to his second year? How has the relationship developed?

White: It still is pretty much the same. When he came in he pushed us hard and he is still pushing us hard. Even with Montee coming back, we still have a young offense, but our running back group is probably one of the older groups. We have to lead by example whether it's making a play on the field or saying something to someone when they mess up. It's our job to keep the energy up in practice.

Everyone knows that Montee is going to be the focal point of the offense this year, so how do you compete with that? Talk to me about your mindset.

White: It's always my mindset to compete. Coach Hammock stresses that it's always about competition, so I have to come out with the mindset every practice that you want the starting job and you deserve the starting job. It's the same thing for Lewis and Gordon. We're all working to get the starting spot. When you out here, it's about taking advantage of your opportunities.

How special is it in two years you get to own two Big Ten championship rings?

White: It means a lot. It's more than you could ever imagine coming to college. To get here and to play in a BCS game by first year, that's something kids dream about. To get that opportunity twice, it means a lot, and makes me want to come out this year and do the same thing … except win it.

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