Iowa State RB White hopes to build on solid season
James White sure likes what he hears from his coach.
''We're going to run the football,'' said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. ''We think we need to be a run-first football team and set the pass up with the run game.''
White grinned when that remark was repeated for him. He's the No. 1 running back on the Cyclones' depth chart, and a run-first mentality is exactly what he wants. Run-second and run-third would be OK, too.
''It's good for me,'' White said. ''I'm expecting the ball a lot.''
White became the starter last fall after a neck injury in the fourth game sidelined Shontrelle Johnson. White responded by bursting through a hole and sprinting 76 yards for a touchdown against Baylor in the very next game.
That turned out to be Iowa State's longest offensive play of the season and showed what White can bring to the offense. Give him the ball and there's a chance that, whoosh, he's gone.
Johnson is the same type of back. He missed the rest of the 2011 season after his injury, underwent surgery and was cleared to play in July. Johnson broke off touchdown runs of 33 and 61 yards in 2010 and also had a 62-yard kickoff return that season.
''When you look at Shontrelle, when you look at James White, those guys have a chance to make a big play on any given opportunity,'' offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said.
Throw in 6-foot-1, 245-pound bruiser Jeff Woody, who scored the winning touchdown in the stunning two-overtime upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and Iowa State has both depth and versatility at the position.
It starts with White, who rushed for 148 yards in that first start against Baylor, added 138 yards in a victory over Texas Tech and finished as the Cyclones' leading rusher with 743 yards on 159 carries - a solid 4.7 average.
He also caught 21 passes, scored a team-best nine touchdowns and had seven runs of more than 25 yards, a figure he hopes to improve on this year.
''I feel like we can create more explosive plays,'' he said. ''That's why I'm glad Shontrelle Johnson's back. I know what he can do. He's done it before, getting explosive plays game in and game out. Unfortunately he had to get hurt, but I'm glad he's back.''
White also likes what Woody brings to the offense: an ability to wear defenses down.
When Iowa State got the ball after intercepting a pass in the second overtime of the Oklahoma State game, Woody rumbled through the middle three straight times, powering the final 4 yards into the end zone to give the Cyclones their improbable victory.
''I feel like we can create a lot of versatility,'' White said. ''We've all got our own different style as a runner. Woody, he's a pounder. We've got a lot of finesse guys, too. We can make it a challenge for the defense because they can't focus just on one guy.''
White scored a couple of big touchdowns of his own last year.
He took an option pitch from quarterback Steele Jantz and raced 4 yards for the winning touchdown in a three-overtime victory over Iowa. Against Oklahoma State, he circled out of the backfield on the first play of overtime, caught a pass from Jared Barnett and sprinted to the end zone on a 25-yard touchdown that caught the Cowboys by surprise.
''James gave the fans a lot of excitement in 2011,'' Rhoads said.
White might be only 5-8 and 187 pounds, but Rhoads said he saw White squat 500 pounds in the weight room. It reminded him of being told that former ISU running back Troy Davis, who was the same size as White, once was described as a ''pocket Hercules'' - small but mighty.
''James is close to that,'' Rhoads said.
Because of the team's depth at running back, White isn't likely to get the pounding he would as an every-down back, though he showed he could take it when he carried 31 times against Texas Tech.
He'll be ready for it, though - just in case.
''You're going to be sore, your neck is going to be sore, something like that. That's part of football,'' he said. ''You've just got to come in and get treatment. The more treatment you get, the less soreness you'll have. It's all about taking care of your body. If you don't have your body, you don't have anything.''