After spending the first three years of his college football career at Ohio State, Brendon White will play one more game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
This time around, White will be on the visitors’ sideline with Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights travel to Columbus for their annual game against Ohio State. A Central Ohio native who left the Buckeyes before the end of the 2019 season to transfer to Rutgers, where his former defensive coordinator and Ohio State position coach Greg Schiano is now the head coach, White is glad to have the chance to play one more game in the Shoe.
“Yeah, I’m excited to go back home,” said White, whose father William also played for the Buckeyes. “There’s a lot of familiar faces there that I miss and I’m glad to see and compete against them, and I’m just glad to be able to play in the Horseshoe one more time, be able to play in my home state and hopefully have some family come and watch.”
While White broke through to become one of the Buckeyes’ top defensive players in the final six games of the 2018 season, earning Rose Bowl Defensive MVP honors to close the year, he played seldomly for the Buckeyes last season after Schiano was replaced by a new defensive coaching staff. Because he felt like Schiano had gotten the best out of him while they were at Ohio State together, he decided to join Schiano in Piscataway after entering the transfer portal.
“The biggest thing with me and Coach Schiano was yeah, we butted heads a lot, but he got me out of my comfort zone,” White said Wednesday. “He allowed me and showed me and taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and ever since then, I feel like our relationship’s grown even more and now I look at him more than as a coach. He’s kind of like a father figure to me now. So he’s someone I can talk to outside of football and stuff like that, so when you have a person who not only is a phenomenal coach but he’s someone you know you can talk to besides football, that’s someone I definitely want to follow.”
Even though he’s now in New Jersey rather than just minutes down the road from where he grew up, White feels right at home at Rutgers because of how warmly he’s been welcomed into the program.
“I think the biggest thing with the game of football is it allows you to connect with new people and meet new friends, so the biggest thing for me was being able to come here and hopefully come in here with a team who had open arms and that’s exactly what they had,” White said. “They let me come right in like I was family.”
As a starting safety once again at Rutgers, White has recorded 17 total tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery in the Scarlet Knights’ first two games. And Schiano says White has been one of Rutgers’ team leaders “from the day he got here.”
“He works extremely hard. He’s extremely focused on being the best player that he can be and helping others around him be that, and then I think he’s played well on the field the last two weeks,” Schiano said. “I had a great relationship with him at Ohio State. At the beginning, there was a lot of tough love, and then he really came on at the latter part of ‘18. And when things didn’t work out there for him, I certainly was really pleased that he chose to come join us. So he’s an integral part of our program.”
Though White’s career at Ohio State didn’t end the way he hoped it would, he still has fond memories from his three years with the Buckeyes.
“I learned a lot about the game of football, I learned what it means to win,” White said. “I was blessed to be a part of that rivalry, playing Michigan. So there’s a bunch of things that I took from Ohio State that I’ll definitely nurture and keep with me and stuff like that, but I’m glad I’m a Scarlet Knight now.”
Ohio State won Big Ten championships in all three of White’s seasons with the Buckeyes, and one of the things he’s tried to bring with him to Rutgers – who didn’t even win a single Big Ten game in 2018 and 2019, but won its season opener against Michigan State this year – is “that winning mentality, that winning mindset” that he learned as a Buckeye.
“We’re gonna keep going and fight to win and any chance we can get to win, we’re gonna try to do that,” White said. “So I think that winning mentality and that strive to want to be great here is starting to come along, and guys are starting to grasp it and understand it more.”
Given that winning mentality, White will be going into Saturday’s game with a belief the Scarlet Knights can compete with Ohio State even though they’re 38-point underdogs. Asked whether he had been talking with any of his former Buckeyes teammates about their upcoming reunion on Saturday, White said he hadn’t because he’s “trying to stay locked in as much as possible.”
“Just focus on the game plan, focus on watching film, so I’m able to play and be prepared and play my best on Saturday when it comes,” White said.
If last year’s on-field scene when Keandre Jones returned to Ohio Stadium with Maryland is any indication, though, it’s likely there will be many Buckeyes excited to see him again and share a moment with him – though it could look a little different in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – after the game on Saturday night.
“There’s people there that will be lifelong friends, there’s a few coaches there that will be lifelong friends as well,” White said of his former Ohio State teammates and coaches.