Fourth and Long

Published 1:56 pm Friday, November 12, 2010

Thirty-one UNC football players have missed at least one game this year due to either injury or NCAA investigation, including 19 defensive players.

With so many players gone, depth has certainly been an issue. The absence of so many starters, however has created an opening for underclassmen and older role players to take the field and contribute.

Players like Johnny White have taken advantage of the opportunity.

White seemed destined for stardom coming out of high school. He broke the all-time rushing record at Asheville High School after just two seasons in the starting rotation.

Breaking the record was impressive alone, but when you take into account that the record he broke was held by former Tar Heel legend Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and White’s arrival in Chapel Hill was met with large hopes and expectations.

Things did not quite go as planned for White when he arrived. Recruited by John Bunting, Johnny red shirted his freshman season in 2006. That also happened to be Bunting’s last year.

By the time the Burlington native was ready to play he was doing it for a new coach. White started eight games that season, but behind an offensive line that was finding it difficult to open up holes, the Tar Heels eventually moved the bigger and stronger Greg Little from wide receiver over to the backfield.

The 2008 season began with White at cornerback where it was thought that his athleticism and offensive knowledge might pay dividends. It did not.

After a season wasted on the defensive side of the ball, he was moved during the off season last year to wide receiver.

White saw a little more playing time at receiver, but not much more and, aside from special teams play, it seemed that White’s career at UNC was just never meant to be.

Because of injuries late last season the coaching staff again asked White to change positions and return to the role of running back. Determined to stay in the backfield, White busted his hump during the offseason and was named the team’s MVP of the offseason strength and conditioning program.

He was stuck behind Ryan Houston, Shaun Draughn and freshman Gio Bernard on the depth chart going into this season. That was before all the chaos arrived in Chapel Hill of course.

Before he knew it he was sitting atop the depth chart against LSU in the season opener. White sprained his ankle in the game and only carried the ball eight times, but returned against Georgia Tech with 113 yards rushing and a touchdown.

It would be the first of three 100-yard rushing games White would have this year and he was clearly on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards this season, a feat that has not been accomplished by a Carolina running back since Jonathan Linton did it in 1997.

It was not to be, however ,and in the second quarter of a history making win against Florida State last weekend Johnny White’s UNC career ended after breaking his right clavicle.

Johnny White is a consummate example of what a football player is supposed to be.

Johnny White puts the needs of his team before the needs of himself.

Johnny White dedicates the time and effort to put himself in the best shape he can physically by working hard in the weight room, the gym and eating right.

Johnny White studies film and his books so that he can stay prepared mentally and stay eligible academically.

Johnny White is a Tar Heel.

Thanks Johnny!

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at