ST. LOUIS — There’s a YouTube video that says a lot about the old Darius White.
A man in a suit holds a microphone and interviews White, a five-star wide receiver who had just finished playing in the 2010 Under Armour All-America Game.
White, a Parade All-American who had racked up 93 catches for 2,293 yards and 35 touchdowns in his final three seasons at Dunbar High School in Fort Worth, Texas, had just scored two touchdowns in the event that showcases the best high school football talent in the country. He beams with confidence.
The man in the suit, broadcasting to a national audience on ESPN, says: “It’s time now to make a pick.”
The attention turns to a row of hats sitting on a table in front of White, caps that hold the logos of football powerhouses Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and LSU.
“Yeah, it is,” White answers.
He moves his hand toward the left, toward Florida and LSU. He wiggles his fingers. He looks at his mother, and they laugh. Finally, he grabs the orange hat and puts it on his head.
“It will be Texas,” the man in the suit says. “The Longhorns.”
“You said the recruiting decision was hard work,” the man says next. “Why was it hard work?”
“At the beginning it was all fun,” White answers. “Toward the end, it started getting like a job. It was basically a full-time job, every day.”
What he didn’t know then was that the hard work was just beginning.
When I met Darius White at the first week of Mizzou football camp last week, I asked him about the video.
What does he think of it now?
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t trying to be a cocky dude, or anything,” White says. “But most of us were that top, top dude.”
“When I put that hat on, I was going into college saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do the same things I did in high school,'” he says. “But when you get into college, you realize that, in high school, you are playing against, basically, kids. This [college football] is grown-man football.”
Texas didn’t work out for White. He was expected to be coach Mack Brown’s next great receiver in a long line of Longhorn stars. Instead, he caught six passes for 71 yards in 21 games. He scored just one touchdown in his two seasons, a 31-yard score that came at the end of a blowout.
“You have to learn the correct depth, the correct steps,” White says. “You have to perfect your craft. In high school, you were just running past everybody, getting open.”
“You have to put in time to get on the field. You can’t just go in and play. You have to put in time to get on the field. Get your head in the playbook. Study film. That’s one thing I learned.”
For the first time in his life, football was hard. And while the lessons came, White believed he received them too late. At Texas, opinions of him had already formed.
“It was a decision on me,” he says. “I went in and talked to coach Brown. I told him I wanted to get a fresh start. He was behind me 100 percent.”
Mizzou associate head coach Dave Steckel, who had recruited White as a high schooler, offered a do-over.
His transfer season, a dormant year required by the NCAA, was spent far from the spotlight. He played on the practice squad and studied, often with the help of 2013 team captain L’Damian Washington. Eligible again this year, he is penciled in as the third option at X receiver, behind seniors Washington and Jaleel Clark.
He is still a raw, 6-foot-3 receiver who drips potential. He still has a long way to go. The difference is, he knows.
“I think Darius has matured a lot,” Mizzou offensive coordinator Josh Henson says. “Do I think he is there yet? I don’t.
“Part of maturity is just learning how to work every day. When you step on this field, you come out here with a workman’s attitude. You take this as your job, and you’re going to get better at it. You take a business approach to it. That’s what I’ve seen more out of Darius — getting better at all the little things. You can not do a lot of little things right and be a talented kid in high school, because you are big, you can run, you can catch, you make a lot of plays. … When you get to this level, it doesn’t happen that way. You have to do all the little things right. You have to be a detailed technician.
“That’s what I’ve seen from Darius. He’s working, working, working.”
But can White work hard enough to become the kind of player people envisioned back in 2010?
“Heck yeah, he can,” Henson says. “I’ve been around guys some years that you think, ‘Man, they’re never going to play for us.’ They’ve been around four years and all of a sudden, on their fifth, they come on and play. When does that switch come on for a guy? When does it turn on? You see guys make a decision, say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get this done.’ All of a sudden they get a bank of knowledge where certain things become easy, things that used to be hard. It helps them grow as a player.
“Can Darius do that? Can he come on and be a player? Sure he can. We’ve got a lot of time left.”
A lot of time, indeed. Just look at what White has already been.
First, he was a star. Then, he was a bust. Now, he is an unknown.
He says he’s determined to fight his way back.
“I think about it every day,” he says. “I have a lot to prove to people. A lot of people have forgotten about me.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.