The White Stuff: Bears strike gold with Kevin White

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Kevin White was steaming, and it showed. A slant route and his reception didn’t meet his standards. In frustration, White slammed the football against the ground but maintained his firm grasp on it.

It happened during a recent practice at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania. White was visiting his former school in April and took part in a practice. Now Lackawanna’s young quarterback looked worried.

‘‘He ran back to the quarterback and said: ‘Hey, man, it wasn’t you, boss. It was a good ball. It was on me. I wasn’t running the right route,’ ’’ Lackawanna coach Mark Duda said.

‘‘I had dinner with him that night, and he was like: ‘Coach, I really ran that one bad. That was a bad slant today.’ I was like: ‘It’s April, dude. You’re in a pair of shorts. You’re at a junior-college practice, and you ran a bad slant.’

‘‘So how much does [football] mean to him? You fill in the blanks there. He’s a different kind of competitor.’’

And now White is on the Bears.

By all accounts, general manager Ryan Pace not only used the No. 7 overall pick Thursday on a special receiver who starred at West Virginia in 2014 after playing at Lackawanna, he also used it on a relentless competitor with special character.

‘‘The guy is as hard a worker as I’ve ever been around,’’ West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ‘‘He’s not going to be outworked. . . . He’s just one of the best kids ever.’’

It’s a mentality — a way of life, really — rooted in his upbringing and fortified by the ups and downs of his pursuit of the NFL dream.

* * *

For two summers at Emmaus (Pennsylvania) High School, White worked at McDonald’s while working to become a better football player. He would walk or ride his bike to practice at 7:45 a.m., head home to change, then make his way into town for work.

Then-Emmaus coach Joe Bottiglieri offered him rides, but White typically refused.

‘‘He was determined,’’ said Bottiglieri, now the defensive coordinator at Lehigh University. ‘‘That was all part of it, that whole persona: ‘If I have to walk to work, if I have to walk to practice, it doesn’t matter.’ ’’

White’s parents, Kevin Sr. and Tammy, never demanded that he work. But their everyday approach to life encouraged him to do so.

In pursuit of better opportunities for their seven children, the Whites moved out of a tough neighborhood in Plainfield, New Jersey, to Allentown, Pennsylvania, then to Macungie, Pennsylvania.

Tammy works for a pharmaceutical company and has commuted more than an hour for 15 years. Kevin Sr., a supervisor for an information technology company, often would work from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

‘‘I never want to let them down,’’ White said. ‘‘I just want to make my family proud.

‘‘They didn’t make me, but they advised me that I get a job, just take some responsibility and have some money in my pocket, so I don’t continue to ask them for money. I accepted that responsibility.”

It wasn’t easy finding playing time at Emmaus. White arrived at the school as a sophomore and spent two seasons on junior varsity.

‘‘It was a challenge,’’ Kevin Sr. said. “The school curriculum, sports, everything. It gave him a better opportunity, but it was starting all over again. It was a mental stage that he went through. It made him hungry.’’

* * *

Lackawanna has plenty to offer, but it was White’s advice that sold his younger brother Kyzir on the school. White had driven his brother to Lackawanna and sat in on a recruiting visit with Duda.

‘‘Kevin looks at him and goes, ‘Kyzir, you want to go to a place where they not only care about you playing, but they care about you,’ ’’ Duda said. ‘‘This is big-brother talk.’’

Being involved in his brothers’ lives is important to White. Ka’Roun, a receiver, followed White to Lackawanna and signed with West Virginia in February. Kyzir is a safety at Lackawanna.

‘‘I want to do everything for them,’’ White said. ‘‘We used to sleep in the same bed.’’

White is quite the model to follow. Despite being an all-conference receiver and defensive back as a senior at Emmaus, his subpar academic standing turned away major programs. So he went to Lackawanna, where he redshirted his first season because of a nagging shoulder injury and experienced receivers in front of him. The next year, a paperwork snafu for his financial aid kept him off the team.

‘‘How are you going to tell your best receiver in your program that he can’t stay?’’ Duda said. ‘‘We were totally just like, ‘Oh, God,’ and so was he.’’

White’s parents called it his crossroads.

‘‘We had a rough talk,’’ Kevin Sr. said. ‘‘We told him to take advantage and turn a negative into a positive. . . . Once the coaches see that, you can make up for lost years. Always think that. You can come back a better football player, a better person.’’

White said the absence made him love football even more.

‘‘He took the high road, which he always seems to do,’’ Duda said.

White returned for the 2012 season and had 36 catches for 535 yards and six touchdowns. During that season, he sent out hundreds of emails to colleges, imploring them to look at him. But he had missed two years.

‘‘There was no real book on him,’’ Duda said. ‘‘We had to convince people to come in and look at this kid.’’

One who did was Holgorsen, who had a strong relationship with Duda. Holgorsen, who coached first-round picks Tavon Austin at West Virginia and Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech, made sure to pay him a visit.

‘‘This big kid came walking into the room, and the rest is history,’’ Holgorsen said.

With West Virginia’s quarterback situation settled last season, White finally had the season he expected of himself: 109 catches, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games.

White blossomed into a top-10

pick, but the success didn’t change him, West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway said.

‘‘A down-to-earth, humble kid,’’ he said. ‘‘Kevin wants to learn.’’

* * *

White had been a Bear for less than 24 hours Friday, but he already was a main attraction for a group of schoolboys who spotted him on a trip downtown with their teacher.

‘‘One little boy said, ‘Too Easy!’ ’’ Tammy said, referring to White’s nickname on a video clip.

‘‘He really knew him,’’ Kevin Sr. said. ‘‘Kevin said, ‘That made my day.’ ’’

But the Bears have made his dream.

‘‘He was definitely hoping that he was chosen by the Bears,’’ Tammy said. ‘‘He never stopped talking about his [predraft] visit.’’

White’s past coaches say he doesn’t have the ‘‘diva’’ characteristics that often accompany top-end receivers. His character and passion for football are praised with similar vigor.

‘‘He would rather fall on the ground unconscious before he’d lose,’’ Duda said.

It’s just whom White is.

‘‘I think the city is going to enjoy him,’’ Galloway said. ‘‘He has a hunger to strive. With him, he’s been brought up that way.’’

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns

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