Lost in the hype of all great 3-4 defenses is perhaps their most necessary ingredient – a nose tackle.
But don’t think for a second that coaches around the country didn’t notice just that player at Cal Poly. Despite playing most of last season in the shadows of current NFL rookies Courtney Brown and Kyle Shotwell, Chris White was the only Mustang to be selected to the American Football Coaches Association Division I-AA All-America Team.
And now White, who will move from the nose to defensive end at the next level, will join Brown and Shotwell in the professional ranks. White signed with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders on May 15. His contract has one year guaranteed, after which he can opt out to sign with an NFL team before the 2008 regular season or come back for another guaranteed year with the Stampeders.
“Right after the (NFL) draft we were kind of waiting on some teams and it didn’t come through,” White said Thursday in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he was waiting to receive his passport Friday. “Coach (Rich) Ellerson made a few calls for me and hooked (me) up with the GM of the Calgary Stampeders and the BC Lions.”
The 6-foot-3, 272-pound White said he chose Calgary because it wanted to play him at end whereas British Columbia wanted to play him at tackle.
“My frame is too small as an inside guy,” White said.
White was never too small in Cal Poly’s vaunted double-eagle flex scheme, which blends from a 3-4 to a 5-2 during the course of a game. The Bakersfield native had 30 tackles (10.5 for loss), five sacks and nine quarterback hurries despite constant double teams in 2006. With 21.5 sacks in his four-year career, White ranks third on the team’s sack list since moving to the Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) level in 1994.
Because he signed relatively late in the post-draft process, White missed a minicamp, but expects to arrive in Calgary by Tuesday to prepare for training camp, which the Stampeders open June 1 at the University of Calgary.
In addition to moving north of the border, White will experience changes on the gridiron. The eight-team CFL, which has existed since 1958, implements rules different from the NFL in several areas.
Games in the CFL are played on a 110-yard field, with 12 players per side, three downs until turning the ball over and defensive linemen must play a yard off the line of scrimmage.
White, though, looks forward to the refreshing change of scenery he hopes to find with a Calgary team that went 10-8 in 2006 – including an 8-1 mark at rabid McMahon Stadium. The Stampeders have won five Grey Cups, the most recent in 2001.
“I’m just excited to get a chance to do one-on-one against (offensive) tackles instead of (getting) double teams all the time,” White said. “. The field’s bigger, so I’ve been running a little more. It’s going to be a different experience. I’m excited to get up there and start playing. I’m just excited to try something new. Out of high school, I was really excited to get away from what I had known and get a little uncomfortable. That’s the same way with Canada.”
White did not redshirt at Cal Poly and will graduate in four years with a degree in business. He started all 35 games over the last three years for the Mustangs and was part of a 16-player senior class that won more games (32) than any other in the program’s 91-year history.
“Ever since I got here freshmen year,” White said, “I didn’t redshirt to immediately feel part of the family. We were a really cohesive family. Never did anybody get on each other’s nerves. It’s a really special feeling to come in and make this program better than it was before.”
There is precedent for Cal Poly players finding success in the CFL. After starring at Cal Poly from 1994-98, running back Antonio Warren has found a home in the league. With the BC Lions in 2005, Warren led the CFL in rushing touchdowns (13) and was fourth in all-purpose yardage (2,179).
While some players play their entire careers happily and financially secure in the CFL, others – including Warren Moon, Joe Theismann, Jeff Garcia, Joe Horn and Doug Flutie – parlay their success into prominent NFL careers.
That’s where White hopes to eventually join Brown, a seventh-round cornerback with the Dallas Cowboys, and Shotwell, an undrafted free-agent linebacker with the Oakland Raiders.
Two ex-Mustangs – Buck Buchanan Award winners Jordan Beck (2004) and Chris Gocong (2005) – are currently listed as starters on their respective NFL teams’ Web sites’ early depth charts. A pair of third-round picks, Beck is the Atlanta Falcons’ middle linebacker and Gocong the Philadelphia Eagles’ strong side linebacker.
“I knew that (the CFL) had talked to me about those guys before,” White said. “They had been watching me for a couple years. Everything helps. It’s just great that we’re starting to be more recognized.”