Goss: E.J. White prepared to lead St. Francis offense
August 7, 2012 9:26PM
University of St. Francis quarterback E.J. White. | File photo
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:15AM
The University of St. Francis quarterback is not to be confused with Atlas.
But the fact is, junior E.J. White will be playing on a more level field this fall when those nasty linebackers come calling.
“Maybe I can lay a hit now myself,” smiled the 6-foot-1 White, who said he is up to 183 pounds after playing last year at what he admitted was “about 168.”
The NAIA is small-college football. But it is college football, and the hitting can be fierce.
Yet, White rushed for a net of 891 yards and averaged 5.5 per carry as a slender sophomore, when he led the Saints (10-3) to a school record for wins and their first-ever victory in the NAIA Football Championship Series. Toss in his passing numbers — 201-of-316 (63.6 percent) for 2,457 yards and 34 touchdowns — and it is little wonder he was named the Mid-States Football Association Midwest Offensive MVP.
St. Francis coach Joe Curry was a key member of former coach Mike Uremovich’s staff when the Saints and White discovered one another down in Florida.
“Coach U. and I went down to the high school all-star game in Florida,” Curry recalled. “A coach down there knew coach U., and he asked if we were interested in getting a quarterback. We kind of were in need of one. He told us about this kid who tore his ACL in the third game (of his senior year) and he wasn’t getting much of anything in the way of offers.
“We kind of were in need of a quarterback, and we welcomed E.J. to the Saints family. It is scary to think what he may do in two more years here.”
Still, a kid from St. Cloud, Fla., embracing the idea of journeying north to Joliet to play for St. Francis?
“I grew up in Milwaukee and most of my family is in Wisconsin, so this was actually a move close to home,” said White, who added he moved to St. Cloud from Milwaukee when he was 12.
Besides, White is not alone. Although most players on the St. Francis roster hail from Illinois, many from right here in the Joliet area, several others are from Florida, with California, Ohio, Georgia and Arizona other states that are represented.
“I stayed here over the summer with a bunch of guys from Florida, Ohio and California,” White said. “We worked out together, did the things that build team camaraderie.”
The Saints finished last season ranked No. 8 in the NAIA national poll, and they moved up to No. 7 in this spring’s coaches’ poll. Curry said the key to being the best they can be this season is consistency.
“With our potential, if we could put together consistency, that should limit any complacency our guys might have,” he said.
That’s where White plays a key role, in addition to whatever gaudy statistics he accumulates.
“E.J. never has complacency in his mind,” Curry said. “He is the leader of the offense. Whenever the offense gets into a little bit of a lull in practice, he gets after them, and the lull is over.
“He also is the ultimate competitor. He doesn’t believe he can’t do anything.”
White and USF senior center Doug Spacht (Long Beach, Calif.) have been named to the Beyond Sports Network (BSN) NAIA Preseason All-America First Team, and both were honorable mention picks by USA College Football.
Worthy honors, to be sure. But White is more interested in team results.
“Our goal always is to win the conference,” he said. “When I first got here, we said that, but I didn’t really feel it. What sparked the whole season last year was knowing we could do it. I hope we can take it further this season.”
An offense that averaged 38.8 points and 452.3 yards under White’s guidance last season, with numerous full- and part-time starters returning, bodes well.
“One big thing we have going for our offense is the speed of our linemen,” White said. “They’re faster than normal offensive linemen. The next thing will be for us to out-condition (the opponents) and be more physical.”
The Saints are well stocked in skill players to supplement White.
Junior running back Anthony Hubert rushed for 800 yards and averaged 8.0 a carry last year. Sophomore John Magee (Plainfield South) will contribute out of the backfield, at wide receiver and returning kicks.
Senior Desmond Page caught 54 passes for 660 yards, while junior Elliot Allen (Minooka) caught 49 for 571 yards besides averaging 15.0 on punt returns and 19.8 on kickoff returns. White said sophomore backup quarterback Ryne Van Gennep (Lincoln-Way East) will be a surprise contributor this year as a receiver. Regular tight ends Luke Gundersen (Plainfield South) and Dustin Greenwell both are juniors.
“It’s nice to have those big guys who are the size of offensive linemen and can catch the ball,” White said. “We can be like the New England Patriots.”
With White making like Tom Brady? As Curry said, his quarterback doesn’t believe he can’t do anything.
That move north from Florida that White made a couple of years ago is looking better all the time.