‘Fearless’ linebacker Drew White emerges as leader for Irish
Aidan Thomas | Friday, December 18, 2020
After starting 2-0, Notre Dame had a COVID-induced double-bye week as the calendar flipped from September to October in what has been a wildly unique 2020 season. In the days leading up to their return to the gridiron against Florida State, Irish senior linebacker Drew White was asked how he felt about getting back on the football field.
“It’s been great,” White responded immediately. “A lot of energy, excited to be back here. Flying around, having fun.”
Short and sweet, but the comment clearly displays White’s passion for the game and for his teammates as, after starting his career with the blue and gold in relative anonymity, the Florida product has emerged as a force and leader in the Irish locker room.
Hailing from Fort Lauderdale, Drew White did not enter Notre Dame as a well known prospect. The three-star recruit committed March 21, 2016, turning down offers from 17 other schools. White didn’t end up seeing the field until 2018, but he became a high-impact player in 2019, roaming the field at linebacker for the Fighting Irish, who won 10+ games for the third straight season. However, despite recording 80 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries for a stingy Notre Dame defense, White, like most in the Irish locker room, wasn’t satisfied, as they fell short in their two biggest games of the season against Georgia and Michigan. Despite playing a slightly lesser role, White has emerged as a leader in an extremely deep linebacker room in South Bend.
“Me and [junior middle linebacker] Bo Bauer (who fills in for White in certain packages) have definitely improved off of each other,” White said. “I think we have the best linebacker depth as a collective unit. We feed off of each other.”
For White, the relatively anonymous 3-star recruit, posting gaudy statistics has never been his motivation — winning big games and ultimately a national championship has remained the goal and standard. Nothing changed after the Irish rid themselves of their big-game demons earlier this season against Clemson — according to White, the Irish expected to win, and doing so did not change their season plans
“After you beat a team, you can celebrate as much as you want for 24 hours. But after that, you have to start game planning for next week,” White said. “24 hours and then we’re moving on and we’re rolling.”
Even though Clemson was the No. 1 team in the country, White noted that Notre Dame expected to win the entire way, so much so that head coach Brian Kelly prepared the team for the inevitable storming of the field by the Irish student body that occurred after the fourth down stop in double overtime.
“Right after the Clemson game, it was pretty hectic,” White said. “But I didn’t even notice that the students were storming the field until I actually collided with them.”
That fits right in with White. Whether it was dealing with the hype of the victory over No. 1 Clemson, facing former teammate Phil Jurkovec the next week or prepping for the first ever conference championship in program history, White is locked in at all times, particularly between the white lines.
“We talk about a faceless opponent,” White said. “It’s our standard of play, our performance that we want to keep improving.”
That mentality within the Irish locker room has made players like White shine. Although he’s not the central pillar of the defensive scheme every week, when his number is called, White is ready to go. Against Clemson, White recorded a season-high nine tackles and deflected a pass. A week later against No. 19 UNC, the Irish looked to their linebacker corps to step up and limit UNC’s high-powered offense, and White responded with five tackles, 0.5 sacks and another deflected pass. At his best, White is clogging up passing lanes and getting involved with blitz packages, hitting opposing quarterbacks and running backs with intense ferocity.
White’s leadership has shone throughout his career. Looking back at the early days as an unheralded recruit that received little playing time in his first few seasons, it’s hard to believe White has come this far as a leader and player within the locker room. The energy and ferocity White plays with is one of his defining attributes, but he doesn’t believe he does more than his fellow teammates.
“I don’t want to be the only guy not giving maximum effort and energy because I know the other 10 guys are,” White said. “Big plays come from being fearless. On defense, everyone can be playmakers. So it’s just fearless guys flying around and playing to their ability.”