Growing up in Ohio, it’s easy to dream of and wish for the day that you can don the scarlet and gray and play at The Horseshoe. There are so many kids that want to do that. The majority of those dreams and wishes never come to fruition, and instead of donning the scarlet and gray while playing at Ohio Stadium, they’re donning the scarlet and gray while watching from the stands. When you grow up just 15 miles away from the Ohio State University, that dream happens even more often.
That’s the exact case for Ohio State safety Brendon White, who graduated from Olentangy Liberty High School. A Buckeye from the moment he came into the world, it has been a lifelong dream to not only attend Ohio State but play for the Buckeyes. When the sophomore was offered by his favorite school and program, he couldn’t pass it up. His dream was closer to coming to fruition. Saturday afternoon, that dream became even more of a reality during the Buckeyes’ 36-31 win over Nebraska.
“It is a dream come true. Hard work pays off,” he said following the game.
When starting safety Jordan Fuller — one of the vocal leaders and best players on Ohio State’s defense — was ejected for targeting in the second quarter, they immediately turned to White. He was thrown into the fire and expected to help a defense that has struggled, whether it be allowing big plays, not filling gaps, taking bad angles, or something else, for much of the season. He made the most of his opportunity, to say the least.
Prior to Saturday, the sophomore had played just 47 total snaps this season, all of which came in garbage time in the first four weeks of the season. He was mainly just a special teams player. Then against Nebraska, the safety played almost every snap following Fuller’s ejection. Even though he only played less than three quarters, White finished with 13 tackles (eight solo tackles) and two tackles for loss, all of which led the team.1 He was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Game for his efforts. On a team that has had issues tackling players in the open field and finding the correct angles to take, the safety did both of those the right way in his first legitimate playing time, and he will only get better with more experience.
Head coach Urban Meyer took notice of the sophomore seizing the opportunity.
“White came in and did a hell of a job,” he said. “He’s been working very hard in practice to earn the trust of the coaches to get on the field … First thing, you gotta earn the trust to get on special teams. … I kept hearing about it, earning the trust. He’s getting better, he’s getting better, and then obviously he proved it today.”
Meyer wasn’t the only coach to take notice. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano loved it. He even took time at the end of the game to show his appreciation for what White did. Without three starters in the Buckeye secondary, the safety stepped up when his team needed him the most. The Athletic’s Bill Landis summed up Schiano’s appreciation for White.
Schiano went player to player, high-fiving some and hugging others, but his demeanor changed a bit when he got to Brendon White. Schiano smiled, whispered something into White’s ear and kissed him on the head. It was an extra bit of affection from defensive coordinator to a player who had come out of nowhere to perhaps offer an answer to at least one of the questions surrounding Ohio State’s defense.
With a secondary already without two starters — cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (groin injury) and safety Isaiah Pryor (impingement of the shoulder) — going into Saturday, they needed someone to step up when Fuller was ejected. No one knew that it would be White, but he did just that. He played the best game an Ohio State safety has played all season.
“My time is ready, you know, we all prepare for this. You never know what’s gonna happen in any game,” White said. “You gotta face adversity and we faced it in the right way, in a positive manner and no one got worried and we just did our job and the rest took care of itself.”
“My goal out there wasn’t to try to make a play. It was to do my job and not do too much. If you do too much, try to be that superhero, then you make a mistake. I knew I had a specific role, that was to do my job at safety and trust the other players had my back.”
To make the performance even more special and emotional, during the game, Ohio State played a video raising awareness for ALS a disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, one that Brendon’s dad, William, is currently battling. The former Buckeye captain and NFL player was diagnosed with the life-changing disease in 2016.2 During the second half of Saturday’s win over the Cornhuskers, a video played in The Shoe raising awareness for White and his battle, a video that featured Meyer, Jim Tressel, Archie Griffin, Chris Spielman, one of William White’s doctors at Ohio State, and William himself.
Brendon was in the middle of playing an outstanding game for the Buckeyes during his first legitimate playing time and possibly locking up a starting nod going forward. Yet, when he looked up at the video board and saw his dad, it was a sobering moment.
“I didn’t want to tear up, but I got emotional about it,” Brendon White said. “That was pretty cool to see that. … He always tells me to stay positive about things. Something negative is always going to come up. … He tells me when your moment comes, go after that.”
He did just that and then some.
The starting safety spot alongside Fuller has been problematic all season. Shaun Wade couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Isaiah Pryor couldn’t seize the opportunity. Jahsen Wint couldn’t do it either. It was a position that was inconsistent and thin throughout the first nine games of the season. The coaching staff was looking for someone to step up. White did just that and then some. The Silver Bullets have had a number of problems all season, most of which can’t be answered by just one player. Poor safety play by the guy opposite of Fuller has been one of those problems. Then suddenly in the latter three quarters against Nebraska on Saturday, it went from a problem to one of Ohio State’s strengths. It was less than a game, but White proved that he could be the guy in the first legitimate playing time of his college career.