Missouri receiver Darius White left Fort Worth Dunbar as a Parade All-American with visions of 10-win seasons and high-profile bowl appearances on an annual basis.
Four years and two schools later, White finally is preparing for his first bowl game: Friday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic matchup between No. 8 Missouri (11-2) and No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2). The Texas transfer said it has been worth the wait.
“This is great, man. You couldn’t ask for better,” White said during Monday’s media day at AT&T Stadium. “If we get this win, it’s going to be even greater.”
White left Texas after two seasons, a week before the Longhorns faced California in the 2011 Holiday Bowl. He headed to Missouri in search of more playing time but, for now, is backing up senior L’Damian Washington, who has 10 touchdown receptions and leads the team in receiving yards (853) and yards per catch (18.1).
A fourth-year junior, White (seven catches, 76 yards, 1 TD) has been a role player for a team that won the SEC East Division title before falling to No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri quarterback James Franklin called White “a really good receiver” who is capable of making big plays if OSU focuses too much attention on other players. White says he is willing to be patient to seize his time in the spotlight.
“I know my time’s coming. That’s why I’m very excited about next year,” said White, who anticipates having up to 30 friends and family members at Friday’s game. “Right now, I sit back, play my role, go in when they need me and try to keep a positive attitude.”
White said he still keeps in touch with Texas coach Mack Brown and planned to spend Monday night rooting for his former coach and teammates in the Alamo Bowl, Brown’s final game as Texas’ coach.
“They’re my guys. I’ve got close friends down there,” Brown said. “Me and Coach Brown chat all the time, still to this day. He texts me after every game, telling me, ‘Good game. Keep your head up. Everything’s going to be fine.’ He’s a great man. He’s changed so many people’s lives just outside of football. Just teaching kids how to grow up and do things.”
White said the move from Austin to Columbia, Mo., has helped him as a student and a football player.
“I’m a lot more focused,” White said. “I’m learning more, just putting all the nonsense to the side. I’m just focused on school and playing ball.”
Stadium still draws awe
Oklahoma State defensive back Justin Gilbert had never been inside AT&T Stadium until this week. Most players from Missouri were getting their first good look during Monday’s media day. Many of the Cowboys from Texas have played either a high school game in the stadium or were around for OSU’s Cotton Bowl in 2010, the first played at AT&T Stadium.
“First thing I looked at is the big jumbo screen,” said Gilbert, who attended Huntsville High School and one of more than 70 Cowboys hailing from Texas. “My little brother played here in a state championship a couple years ago but I didn’t get to make that.”
OSU defensive end Jimmy Bean played a playoff game with Denton Guyer in the stadium. He warned his teammates about what to expect.
“I told them it was nothing to worry about,” Bean said. “It’s just big lights, big cameras, but we still have to come out and perform like we know we should.”
Gilbert is glad he’s been able to get the jumbo screen gawking out of his system.
“Once you’re down on the field I try not to look up at it,” he said, while glancing up at the screen from the field.
“During the game I’m going to try to not look at it. I’m trying to get that out of the way right now. I think Coach Gundy needs to tell everyone on the team to get it out of the way so the guys on the field won’t be looking at the screen and maybe miss a play or be late on a reaction.”
Running back Desmond Roland never got a chance to play here while attending Lake Highlands, but watched a few high schools games from the stands.
“Most of our players played here before,” he said of his Texas-rooted teammates. “I never got a chance to play here. It’s not going to be anything new for them, but I’ll have to soak it in for a while.”
Among his hidden talents, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) claims singing. In fact, he likes to loosen the mood by singing in team meetings. And during bus trips. And on the sideline.
“I sing every day. Anything that crosses my mind. Anywhere,” said Sam, a first-team All-American and the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s something I do. It’s my little hobby.”
Asked about being a possible contestant on American Idol or The Voice, Sam said: “I think I’m that good. But football’s working out fine for me.”