Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 10, Senior Linebacker Drew White
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 10, Drew White

Throughout July, is counting down the 25 most pivotal figures whom Notre Dame will rely on to get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)? The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five writers.

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At No. 10 is senior Mike linebacker Drew White, who collected 71 points in our poll.

Why White Is Ranked No. 10

A year ago at this time, White appeared to be relegated to the scrap heap on Notre Dame’s depth chart. Today, his leadership at middle linebacker is a prime stabilizing force on the Fighting Irish defense.

After redshirting in 2017 as a relatively less heralded three-star freshman, a broken ankle he suffered in the spring of 2018 inhibited his progress.

An injury to starting captain Drue Tranquill versus Navy that year allowed White to make a cameo and record six tackles against the triple option, in which he was well versed. Yet a week later it was classmate and former safety Jordan Genmark Heath who received the start over White.

With Tranquill and Te’von Coney having both graduated, White had an opportunity in the spring of 2019 to get back into the mix — but a snow skiing accident during spring break resulted in a fractured AC joint of his shoulder that sidelined him the final 12 practices.

Opportunity lost. Football career in limbo.

It had already appeared that way when he was sidelined his junior year of high school at superpower St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. So when White committed to Notre Dame prior to his senior year, his star rating was two by Rivals and zero on ESPN.

Entering August 2019, fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal and rangier, 6-3 four-star Bo Bauer, a classmate of the 6-0 White, were both ahead of him at Mike linebacker, while Genmark Heath plus top-100 recruits and sophomores Jack Lamb and Shayne Simon were vying for action at Buck linebacker.

Yet during August camp, White’s combination of downhill play with exceptional instincts had him aligned as the No. 1 Mike linebacker by the second week, and resulted in shifting the veteran Bilal to the Buck position.

Out of nowhere, White and classmate and rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — who also had barely played his first two seasons — tied for the team lead in tackles (80) on a defense that ranked among the top five nationally in the Fremeau Efficiency Index.

After slow starts, both thrived in the spotlight during a 23-17 loss at No. 3 Georgia in the third week, and became mainstays thereafter.

“He has incredible self-awareness,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea noted of White. “He knows exactly what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are. He doesn’t shy away from that. And so he tailors his approach to maximize. Guys that play within their strengths and know where their weak points are, that kind of limits their exposure in that way.

“That guy’s a winner. He’s fought through adversity and hasn’t wavered, hasn’t backed down and has been counted out probably 100 times.”

“Finding that position at Mike linebacker has really allowed him to elevate himself with the right role,” head coach Brian Kelly said of White after the 2019 opener. “He has accepted that role and has physically developed himself to play that position.

“He played with a confidence and a fluidity at that position that he’s going to be able to build upon and play at a really high level for us.”

Notre Dame senior linebacker Drew White versus Georgia in 2019
In 2019, White tied for the team lead in tackles with 80, eight of them for lost yardage. (USATODAY Sports)

White’s Status Entering The Season

Last month while featuring a series on the “most unheralded star” from each of its preseason top 25 teams, ESPN selected White as the Notre Dame representative.

A better selection could not have been made.

Wrote author Tom VanHaaren, “He surprised a lot of people in 2019, given he played sparingly in the previous seasons, but he should get more attention than he does.”

Right now, the attention understandably is on the figures with the higher ceiling and NFL potential that also boast freakish physical attributes. They include Owusu-Koramoah (projected by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay as a 2021 first-round pick and 17th best draft-eligible player), sophomore 6-4 safety Kyle Hamilton, a Freshman All-American who was named by ESPN as Notre Dame’s “most exciting playmaker, and former five-star recruit and current fifth-year senior defensive end Daelin Hayes, a preseason second-team All-American according to Sporting News.

Enhancing White’s value is he has the flexibility and athleticism to play both inside linebacker positions and also possesses an acumen for the game that carries over from his academic work, similar to Tranquill.

Enrolled in the College of Science, White took 15 credits last fall, including a physics lab for his pre-med requirement, and a dual major (science/business) for students who want to be in both pre-med and business. (White is taking management courses on the business end.)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

As does any first time starter at this level, White found himself not in the right fits on a number of occasions last season, especially earlier in the year while adjusting to game tempo and various heretofore unseen alignments.

The improvement showed during Notre Dame’s 6-0 finish. He was particularly effective as an aggressive, downhill closer, but also displayed solid lateral movement and the ability to close off cutbacks.

Last year’s experience is expected to make him an effective leader for Lea’s troops.

He also should have a capable backup in classmate Bauer, last year’s Special Teams Player of the Year. Thus, depending on how well juniors Lamb and Simon progress from major November surgeries and in their performance, along with Genmark Heath, White could also help at Buck linebacker if needed.

White might not need to record 621 defensive snaps as he did last season (nearly 50 per game), but the production could be similar with an even better efficiency quotient.

He does not possess the prototype size to be a prime NFL prospect, but his value to the 2020 Fighting Irish defense with his combination of aggression, instincts and now experience makes him a focal figure at a prominent position of leadership.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press poll. Five writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings:

Patrick Engel: 6

Lou Somogyi: 14

Mike Singer: 13

Todd Burlage: 15

Andrew Mentock: 11

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 11 : Robert Hainsey

No. 12: Kevin Austin

No. 13: Jarrett Patterson

No. 14: Jafar Armstrong

No. 15: Nick McCloud

No. 16: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa

No. 17: Shaun Crawford

No. 18: Houston Griffith

No. 19: Lawrence Keys III

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 21: Aaron Banks

No. 22: Bennett Skowronek

No. 23: Tommy Kraemer

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish


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