Todd White has spent the past three seasons at Cal State Fullerton as a reserve wide receiver, playing behind James Pruitt, Allen Pitts, Wade Lockett and Corn Redick. At Fullerton, this was roughly the equivalent of being Richard Burton's understudy in a production of Hamlet, or singing background vocals for Madonna.
The spotlight just didn't shine White's way very often. Among them, Pruitt, Pitts, Lockett and Redick caught 37 touchdown passes during their careers at Fullerton. They called themselves "The Corpsmen." They made their quarterbacks look good and opposing defensive backs look silly.
All four went to National Football League training camps this summer. Pruitt survived the series of cuts to make the roster of the Miami Dolphins, who had made him a fourth-round draft choice. Redick, a seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, is on that club's injured-reserve list. Lockett and Pitts both failed in their first attempts to break into the NFL as free agents.
The plethora of talent at his position sent Todd White on a voyage to the bottom of the Titan depth chart at wide receiver. It was enough to make a guy consider going somewhere where he was more needed.
"When I came in for my freshman year, they were all healthy and ready to play at one time," White remembered. "The first thing I thought to myself was, 'You've gotta get out of here.' "
White said he had considered transferring to a community college but, after talking with his parents, decided to stay at Fullerton and wait for his chance to move to center stage. With The Corpsmen all out on the road in search of new teams, White figures to get that chance this season.
Said Fullerton associate head coach Jerry Brown, who works with the Titan receivers: "He knew he'd have to be patient and his time would come. Now's the time."
If nothing else, his first two games have been eventful. Like the Titans, White has had his moments in losses to Nevada Reno and New Mexico State. But Coach Gene Murphy and his staff hope there are better moments ahead for White and his teammates.
Thus far, White has caught 3 passes for 44 yards, returned 5 kickoffs for 137 yards, including a 61-yard return against Reno, and has thrown for a 42-yard gain on a halfback option play. Against New Mexico State, however, White also dropped two passes and failed to field an Aggie kickoff. The muffed kickoff return was something of a team mistake. One of White's teammates appeared to run into him as he attempted to field the high kick. The mix-up led to a third-quarter New Mexico State field goal. The Titans lost, 24-21.
"I didn't sleep at all after the game Saturday night," White said. "I couldn't sleep on the plane on the way back. I just sat around the house and moped Sunday. I finally had to get out and play some tennis to get my mind off of football. I just had to take out a little frustration on that green ball."
On Sunday, an El Paso newspaper ran a photograph of White dropping a pass against the Aggies. White tore it out and has since taped it to his locker. "Negative reinforcement," he said.
Brown said White's role on the specialty teams will be reduced this Saturday against Idaho State, but only so that he can concentrate more on receiving. "He's still our guy," Brown said. "We haven't lost confidence in him. I think he's a very strong kid mentally. He'll be fine."
This is quite a role reversal for White. In 1983, while The Corpsmen were busy catching passes for the Titans, White, then a freshman, was searching for his niche. He found it as a holder. During the 1983 and 1985 seasons (he was redshirted in 1984), he was the Titans' holder on field goals and extra points. "I used up a whole year of eligibility doing that," White said.
Having Pruitt, Pitts, Lockett and Redick gone is good news for White. But, in a way, it's bad news as well.
"I think I've been kind of lax," he said. "With those guys here, you were constantly pushing yourself to be better because that's the way they were. With them gone, you kind of relax. You don't have someone to constantly drive you.
"I really miss them a lot. They were fun guys to be around. I don't miss them playing, though, because I know I wouldn't be out there if they were still here."