football Edit

Why this Notre Dame football player has earned ‘super senior’ status

Drew White took his temperature at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13. It was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Later, he went to breakfast at the Notre Dame team hotel wearing a mask. His shirt was drenched in sweat. He hadn’t slept a lick since 6.

There aren’t many things, if any, that have kept White off the field during his five-year Notre Dame career. He’s played through a plethora of injuries. Just this year alone he’s battled through a banged-up shoulder and an injured posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee. He played in the North Carolina game with the former. He played against Navy with the latter.

Earlier this month, though, White came down with a bear of an illness at the wrong time. He wasn’t able to play against Virginia. He was too sick with the flu bug that went around the locker room that week.

White started in 24 of 25 games during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He had started every game of the 2021 season up until the 10th. He’s been a mainstay in the Notre Dame linebacking corps in meaningful game situations for three years now.

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That’s why if he doesn’t like what he hears from NFL scouts early in the pre-draft process this winter and wishes to return to Notre Dame for a sixth — yes, sixth — season, head coach Brian Kelly and company should welcome him back for one last hoorah with open arms.

Like many fifth-year seniors, White has a sixth year of eligibility waiting for him if he chooses to use it. He redshirted in his first year at Notre Dame in 2017. His potential sixth year is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic waiver offered to all student-athletes who played during the 2020 season.

Coaches across the country are going to have some tough conversations with prospective “super seniors.” There won’t be enough room on rosters for everyone to come back. Notre Dame, for example, currently has a 2022 recruiting class stocked full of 22 highly rated recruits. That number will likely grow between now and the early signing period and beyond.

There are some linebackers already committed in the class of 2022 who will bolster that room and give defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman plenty to work with at the position. But if White feels inclined to come back, he’s just someone Kelly can’t say no to.

That’s how much he’s meant to Notre Dame in the last five years.

“He’s resilient, a really tough guy, and he cares a lot about this team,” graduate student defensive tackle Kurt Hinish said. “That’s why he’s had success here. He’s an extremely hard worker.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football graduate student linebacker Drew White
Graduate student linebacker Drew White can come back for a sixth season if he wants to. (Mike Miller)

Hinish has played with a bunch of big-time names during his time at Notre Dame. Eight NFL Draft picks in 2021 alone. Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet and Julian Okwara from 2020’s draft class. Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill from 2019. The list goes on. He was asked to name a couple guys he respects the most of any of his current or former Notre Dame teammates.

White was at the top of the list.

“He’s worked his ass off in school, and he’s worked his ass off on the football field,” Hinish said. “He’s fought through injuries. It was really cool to be a part of his journey.”

The “should Notre Dame take Drew White back?” argument might be futile. His mind might already be made up. This could very well be his swan song in a blue-and-gold uniform. But the following should not have been left unsaid: White might not be the best defensive player any time he steps on the field. He might not ever be the most talented. But few players are going to outwork him. Few players are going to want it more. There’s a spot on the roster for guys like that every single year.

“He’s a warrior,” Kelly said, simply.

That’s one of the best descriptors White would ever want used on himself. He has never been out to be any of the things listed in the paragraph above. He’s been out to help Notre Dame win football games by working as hard as he can, and he has done a fine job of it.

“It’s a mentality you have to have,” White said. “It’s the Notre Dame culture. Being a gritty, tough dude. Knowing how to push through walls. So much of it is mental — mental toughness that you have to have. A lot of that comes from just this place.

“I’ve been here for five years. I’ve became what Notre Dame has instilled in me.”

Five years. Heck, what’s a sixth? Now where’s a wall and who’s ready to run through it?



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