AP taps Sooners’ White as player of the year
Norman, Okla. ? Jason White spent much of the night in darkness, staring at his bedroom ceiling, his swollen right knee slightly elevated.
It was Sept. 7, 2002, hours after Oklahoma’s quarterback crumpled to the turf against Alabama because of a torn knee ligament. He had the same injury in his other knee the year before. Unable to sleep, he feared his career was over before it really began.
Yet White did return — and produced a remarkable comeback. He beat out three quarterbacks for the starting job, put Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game, and was honored Wednesday as the Associated Press College Player of the Year.
“During my rehab, there were people saying that there was no way that I was going to come back or be as good as I was,” said White, the Big 12 offensive player of the year. “That really drove me and ignited me this season.”
He emerged as the nation’s top-rated passer, leading the third-ranked Sooners (12-1) to a Sugar Bowl berth against No. 2 LSU (12-1) Jan. 4.
White, a Heisman Trophy finalist, received 27 votes in balloting by the panel of sports writers and broadcasters on the AP college football poll.
Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald was second with 19 votes, followed by Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning (3), Kansas State running back Darren Sproles (3), Michigan running back Chris Perry (2), USC quarterback Matt Leinart (1) and USC receiver Mike Williams (1).
The nation’s top-rated passer was selected AP Player of the Year for the second straight season; Iowa’s Brad Banks won in 2002. White also becomes the second OU quarterback to win in the past four years, after Josh Heupel in 2000.
White’s season-ending injuries the last two years both came without being hit. That led to questions about his durability — not to mention ability. In fact, many considered him the Sooners’ lone question mark coming into the season.
“I’m sure not many people had him on their All-America lists at the beginning of the season,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
But White shined from the start. Indeed, his statistics probably would have been gaudier if Stoops hadn’t pulled him from some lopsided games.
Robbed of much of his speed, White excelled by staying in the pocket. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“He’s had one of the greatest years of any quarterback ever,” offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “It’s a great story for anyone. People could learn a lot from his determination — a lot of guys would have given up and called it a career.”
Once White decided not to quit, his recovery began with reconstructive surgery. He then spent up to four hours a day working out, then more hours alone at night watching game tapes on a VCR he borrowed from the football office.
“It’s pretty lonely,” White said.
In one national publication, an opposing coach was quoted as saying Oklahoma had “recruited past White.” White clipped that out and taped it onto a bedroom wall.
His first big encouragement came last summer when Stoops ended a four-way competition by announcing White would start.
Now the native of Tuttle, Okla., a small town about a 30-minute drive from Norman, made the decision look brilliant.
“His emergence as a great, great football player is the story of college football,” Stoops said. “The biggest difference in our team is that Jason White is the quarterback. It ought to be pretty obvious.”