Myles White knows all about Ruston, La., an area surrounded by groves of cabbage palm, swamp red oak and spruce pine hardwoods. The rustic and pristine Southern town, carpeted in lush Bermuda grass, is tucked deep in the northern folds of the bayou. Shipments of oysters, shrimp and sugar cane move sleepily through on slim rail cars across the lines between Shreveport and Vicksburg.
Sitting prominently in Ruston’s epicenter is Louisiana Tech University. Faded white bell towers and sprawling, manicured emerald lawns invariably give way to the campus jewel – and the place many say has been a community gathering place for years – Joe Aillet Stadium.
It’s there that the town has congregated unwaveringly every Saturday for nearly 40 years in support of the Bulldogs, witnessing the multiple NCAA Division 2 National Championships during the 1970s right on through to the program’s gradual return to prominence in the Western Athletic Conference over the last few seasons under head coach Sonny Dykes.
The bucolic campus and friendly confines of Aillet stadium in the sleepy county seat is also where White, the latest Green Bay Packers undrafted wide receiver, went to salvage his football career.
And more importantly, to find himself.
White, blessed with astonishing speed, originally enrolled at Michigan State in 2009 as a highly-touted prep player. However, he was involved in a very publicized incident involving several teammates who fought with campus fraternity members after a night spent clubbing in East Lansing. Though he wasn’t suspended for his role, the damage was done before he had a chance to establish himself as a player for the Spartans. The fallout from that fracas led him to opt for a change of scenery that would allow him put the focus back on his sputtering football career and a wealth of unrealized NFL potential.
After a one-year pit stop at Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2010 he enrolled at Louisiana Tech University. Dykes and his coaching staff embraced players like White – the well-traveled and much-maligned transfers who may not have fully realized all they had to offer, often getting lost in the lights of the big time programs and tied up in the legal systems of Baton Rouge, Tallahassee and Athens- the castoffs of the SEC. Dykes’ Bulldog reclamation project was based on a few simple philosophies: teamwork and fundamentals. That basic structure of a team based on values quickly injected life into a once proud program.
And White thrived.
He became a fixture at the number two receiver spot for the Bulldogs in 2011 and 2012 and hauled in 86 passes for 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns over the course of those two seasons. In doing so, he regained the attention of NFL scouts. And he found purpose and direction that he says he definitely lacked earlier in his career when he didn’t take things as seriously as he does now.
Ultimately, the NFL draft came and went last April. And White, despite his resurgence, wasn’t chosen. Green Bay came calling earlier in the offseason, intrigued by his speed and by his newfound demeanor.
White, despite being in the infancy of his professional career, inevitably faces questions about his choices and his work ethic at almost at every turn. Especially given his nomadic track record in college and his legal woes in East Lansing. He knows he has a lot of work to do if he hopes to dispel the doubters. By most accounts he’s more focused than ever on his goal.
In June, after an especially polished organized team practice, it was none other than quarterback Aaron Rodgers who singled out White, saying that he was impressed by his speed, ability to get release. And his desire. Quite a testament from a player who arguably sees receiver talent better than everybody else in the game right now from a strategy standpoint.
Notably, Rodgers’ assessment pointed out that, apart from making plays on the field, White has demonstrated that he wants to be a part of it all. That he cares. He said White was self-motivated.
White, undeniably, is about to face the biggest challenge yet in his relatively young professional football career. He’s currently perched at the bottom of arguably the league’s deepest positional depth chart.
In the face of this fact, White undoubtedly will draw on what he learned while becoming a man in sleepy little Ruston, the first real stop on his way to the NFL.
And perhaps come September if he manages to overcome the odds to make the final 53-man roster or the practice squad, for the first time in a long time, his past may not be the end of the story.