MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The Whites of Macungie, Pennsylvania, are to West Virginia University football what the Collins family of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, once was to Penn State football in the mid-1980s and most of the 1990s.
Three decades ago, Frances and Charles Collins started sending some of their 19 children to Penn State to play football for Joe Paterno. Andre began the trend in 1986, followed by Gerry, Phillip, Jason and Aaron spanning 11 straight years through 1997 - five of them in all.
Well, here at WVU, Kevin and Tammy White have sent us Kevin Jr., the seventh overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 2015 NFL Draft, Ka’Raun and now Kyzir, two valuable contributors on this year’s Mountaineer football team.
All three began their collegiate careers at Lackawanna College, which means all three took similar paths to reach the highest level in college football.
Kyzir, the youngest of the three, says being a White means being competitive.
“The competition really starts from my dad,” he said recently. “He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met so just being raised by him and my mom, seeing how competitive they are with each other, whether it’s cooking or who cooks the best, it just all stems down to me, my brothers and my sisters. I’m grateful.”
For the record, Kyzir said his mother is the family’s best cook, hands down, when it comes to the food being served off the stove, but pops gets the nod when he’s got a pair of tongs in his hands standing in front of the grill on the back porch.
As far as his brothers go, Ka’Raun is his go-to guy for getting something good to eat, Spanish being his No. 1 dish.
A recent photo of the White family, including Mountaineers Kevin, Ka'Raun and Kyzir. Submitted photo.
“It’s surprising. He likes cooking,” Kyzir admitted.
But that’s about as far as Kyzir will go when it comes to complimenting his brothers. That even goes for Kevin, who probably has the slight edge on them as far as athletic ability based on his status as a starting receiver for the Chicago Bears.
At least for now.
“Because he got drafted seventh, but I’m always going to say I’m better and Ka’Raun is going to say he’s better,” White said.
And then there’s also a younger sister, Kiyae, a 6-foot-1-inch forward who recently signed to play at Auburn.
“She’s pretty good, but I can’t let her beat me,” Kyzir says.
Kyzir is probably the most highly touted of the four, and his decision to attend West Virginia University was never a lock.
He took official visits to USC and Penn State and had a number of other schools pursuing him before he picked WVU.
A meeting with defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and the plan Gibson presented him made Kyzir realize that West Virginia’s defense was perfectly suited for his immense physical skills.
“It was always the spur position, ‘You will play in the box and you will guard slot receivers’ so that was pretty much the position they were preaching to me since the recruiting process started,” Kyzir recalled. “Then, I just had to get more familiar with it by watching KJ Dillon how he played and then it looked real exciting to me.”
Dillon, now playing for the Houston Texans, is considered the gold standard for spur safeties in Gibson’s 3-3-5 stack defense.
Dillon was an every-down player who could cover speedy receivers in the slot, man-up and take on those big guards, tackles and fullbacks in the box on running plays and was also athletic enough to step back and play on the roof in coverage situations.
It takes a tremendously versatile player to be able to do all of those things and when you get a spur who can do it, that makes it much more difficult for offenses to get a read on what Gibson wants to do.
For instance, if Gibbie is constantly subbing out his spurs based on certain defensive packages, that tips his hand. But when you’ve got someone as athletic as Dillon was who can handle everything thrown at him, that makes it virtually impossible to figure out what Gibson might do.
Last year, White was an every-down player and he performed reasonably well, especially once he became more comfortable in the system as the season wore on. However, he’s still not quite to Dillon’s level yet as a blitzer and a physical presence at the line of scrimmage.
That remains a work in progress, partly because he was never asked to do much of that before arriving at WVU last summer.
“I played mostly on the roof at Lackawanna,” he admitted.
Still, there were flashes. He had an important sack and was in on six tackles and a pass breakup in West Virginia’s big victory against Kansas State at home.
And then there was the Texas game when he produced a pair of big plays, including a huge strip-sack of Longhorn quarterback Shane Buechele in the fourth quarter that helped preserve West Virginia’s 24-20 victory.
That is probably his signature play to date.
White’s first-year numbers were solid - 58 tackles, seven tackles for losses, four sacks, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery - but the defensive coaches believe he is capable of doing more this year because he knows what he’s doing now.
“The first game I was just happy to be out there but I didn’t necessarily think I knew what I was doing all the time. I think it was probably about the fourth game when I really felt comfortable,” Kyzir said. “I feel like I could have been playing faster those first few games just looking back on film. It was just minor things I felt I could have done better.”
Having Kyzir White
, now weighing a rock-solid 220 pounds at spur safety, lined up opposite up-and-coming junior bandit safety Toyous Avery
gives WVU two outstanding athletes in the back end.
Mountaineer coaches are seeking more game-changing plays like this from senior safety Kyzir White
in 2017. All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo.
Throw in a healthy Dravon Askew-Henry
at free and you’re looking at an exceptionally skilled trio of safeties capable of giving Gibson the flexibility to bring pressure or drop back in coverage.
White believes the return of Askew-Henry will make a significant difference in this year’s defense.
“Dravon is a great player,” he said. “He’s real anxious to get back out there. He’s really motivated because people might feel like he’s forgotten. We work out together all the time and he’s a great guy and a great competitor. I think he’s going to do a lot of really good things this year.”
Overall, White said there is a lot more he has to offer this season.
“I feel like I could have played a lot better, just looking back at some minor things I saw on film, but it comes with experience,” he pointed out. “I know what to look forward to and each and every day I’m just focusing on little things to improve my game.”
That is what you would expect to hear from a true competitor - something West Virginia football fans are becoming quite familiar with these days from the Whites of Macungie, Pennsylvania.