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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Drew White embodies Notre Dame captainship, will pass torch after Fiesta Bowl

While Drew White has not yet made a decision in terms of his future with the Irish, he played in Saturday’s game as though it was his last appearance in the blue and gold. Although the Irish fell to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 37-35, White played a role in most of the defensive successes on the day. Individually, the game capped off White’s third straight statistically impressive season. The graduate student linebacker (with one year of eligibility remaining) arrived in South Bend in 2017 and rose from a 3-star recruit to one of seven 2021 captains. 

Establishing a reputation of reliability

The Boca Raton, FL native came to Notre Dame as the No. 977 player in the country and ranked No. 41 at inside linebacker. When he joined the roster, the Irish were not at their strongest. 

“Coming off a 4-8 season in 2016,” White said. “I came in and we've had double-digit [win] seasons every year I've been here. I've seen the culture change. I've seen this program continuing to climb.”

White has climbed as well. After a freshman year on the scout team —where most of his recruiting class also spent the year— White took the field four times in his sophomore year. In his junior year he found another gear in what was statistically his best season. White started 12 of 13 games and led the team with 80 tackles (48 solo, 32 assisted and eight of them for loss). He had a single-game tackle career-high at 11 against Michigan, and he recorded a fumble recovery in two straight games against Navy and Boston College. As a senior in 2020, White posted another banner year with 56 total tackles, 29 of them solo. Additionally, he started to take on a leadership role which ultimately led to his captainship in 2021. 

As a captain, White made seven tackles in the season opener against Florida State. He logged one less tackle (55) but grabbed 30 on his own, and as he became even more vocal on the field, he started to have more explosive plays. He grabbed his first interception against Wisconsin, returning it for 45 yards and six points. He also had two fumble recoveries this year.

Irish graduate student linebacker and captain Drew White blitzes OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders in Notre Dame's 37-35 loss in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan.1
Irish graduate student linebacker Drew White blitzes OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders in Notre Dame's 37-35 loss in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan.1 White had six total tackles and recovered one fumble on the day.

Growth shines through in Fiesta Bowl

The Irish had two losses this season, and after both, Drew White represented the team to the media. When he talked about the games, he did so with an awareness that fit a Notre Dame captain. 

In both the home loss against Cincinnati and this weekend’s Fiesta Bowl, White said the defense knew what needed to be done and had the skills to do it. For him, it was just as much a credit to the opposing offense as it was anything the defense was missing. Ultimately, he said the Irish “just didn’t execute.”

“On the 50-50 balls, you've got to make a play. They've got to be ours. On the tackling, by the first level and second level, you've got to tackle the quarterback, you've got to tackle the running back,” White said. “I want to give credit to those athletes, too. Sometimes when the offense makes big plays, everyone is quick to say the defense made a mistake. But I’ve got to give my hats off and praise to the Oklahoma State offense for having playmakers and really making good plays, making explosive plays when they had to.” 

Despite the Notre Dame offensive stall in the second half, White didn’t let up. He ultimately had six tackles in the game. He helped force a fumble and recovered another, all while he and fellow inside linebacker JD Bertrand maintained the communication between the line and the secondary, reading the play as best they could against such a fast-paced offense. 

“Any fast-tempo offense, and especially Oklahoma State who runs a high-tempo offense, it challenges you,” White said. “It challenges you in communication. It challenges you to get the call, get lined up. But at the same time, I feel like our preparation was great. We practiced that all bowl prep. We practiced the conditioning, practiced communication, practiced getting lined up. There might have been a couple of times where we felt short of getting the communication and getting lined up, but overall, I really don't think that was the problem on defense.”

Seemingly handing over the keys

The ability to continue leading despite the score is something the Irish will miss whenever White departs. But that’s not to say he hasn’t prepared those he’d leave behind. Bertrand discussed what it was like to have White guiding him throughout the season and particularly throughout this tougher game. 

“Drew has been awesome to me.” Bertrand said.” Even in the locker room today throughout the whole game, he's there, he's talking to me. And he's just been a good person to be able to lean on. I've been able to lean on him a lot. He's been able to pick me up, teach me things, just the little details of the game that you don't necessarily pick up from just watching film and things like that.”

While White may be leaving, his support isn’t going anywhere. On Saturday he tweeted “Forever Irish” and left the linebacker room, as well as the rest of the team, with a mentality to better use this game outcome. 

“We all want the win, don't get me wrong. But to have that fire under you, to push you in the offseason. This is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of everyone for months and going into spring ball,” White said. “I was telling the younger linebackers, too, to take it as everything happens for a reason. This is a blessing. It's not the outcome we wanted; and it's hard, it's bitter. But it's going to continue to move forward for the next season. And I'm excited to watch Notre Dame football in 2022.”

And the message most certainly did not go unheard. While Bertrand wanted to send the seniors off on a high note, he summed up how one senior in particular had been so beneficial to him and to the team: 

“I’m so thankful that I played along with Drew White.”