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Orange County Sports / Colleges : Todd White Defies Definition : With an Assist From Roommate Barber, Cal State Fullerton's Leading Receiver Is Demonstrating His Versatility

November 06, 1987|ROBYN NORWOOD | Times Staff Writer

The difficulty in describing Todd White arises chiefly in that most people seem to think he's self-explanatory.

It hardly matters what White, Cal State Fullerton's leading receiver and jack-of-almost-all-trades, may have done on any occasion--caught a bunch of passes, thrown one, made a big gain on a reverse, returned punts well or played a key role in one of Fullerton's gimmick plays. Gene Murphy, Fullerton coach, always responds the same way: He shrugs and says simply, "Todd White is Todd White."

Well, of course.

White may be one of the few who doesn't understand.

"What does he mean by that?" wonders White, a fifth-year senior. He asks quarterback Ronnie Barber, who can't quite explain, and he asks Murphy, who doesn't help much more.

What it means, approximately and less succinctly, is that people have developed such confidence in White's abilities and judgment that nothing he does well is any great surprise.

Meticulous in almost every aspect--from the way he runs his routes to the way he dresses and has his hair cut--White began to build his reputation with Fullerton coaches in his first year at the school, when he earned a spot on the traveling team as the holder on field goals and extra points. Because he came to the school at a time when the Titans were loaded with receivers--Corn Redick, Allen Pitts, James Pruitt and Wade Lockett--he had to make a name for himself by doing anything he could, returning kicks from time to time, throwing an occasional pass. He made himself valuable.

Last year, White was one of the first to befriend Barber, a community-college transfer. This year, after a summer spent working together frequently, White and Barber are roommates, sharing one room of a Brea apartment they also share with tight end Jim Thornton.

They have combined for around 35 completions and are climbing toward the top of many Fullerton career lists. Think that might constitute an unfair advantage for White over the other receivers? Probably.

"I talk to him in his sleep," White said. "I say, 'Throw me the ball, throw me the ball.' "

Against New Mexico State last week, White caught his 82nd pass as a Titan, setting a school record for receptions in a career. White is fewer than 200 yards from the career record for receiving yardage, held by Redick, and Barber is only seven touchdown passes from the record of 31, held by Mike Ernst.

The combination worked so well against Nevada Las Vegas several weeks ago--White caught a school-record 12 passes--that the next week against Northern Illinois, Barber threw three interceptions, in part because he was trying to force passes to White.

But for the most part, it's a combination that works smoothly, not least of all because the two get along so well and spend so much time together.

"I know when I throw the ball where he'll make his break," said Barber, who has come into his own this year after learning the system last year. "I know how he runs his routes, so I know when to make the throw so he can get it and run with it."

For White, who redshirted in his second year at Fullerton and who before last year had caught only three passes as a Titan, this has been a year of making certain there is nothing left to regret.

"I'll never look back and say I could have done better this year," he said.

Besides having a good year receiving, White has become a fine punt returner. He leads the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. with a 14.5 average, and is 25 yards from setting a school record for punt return yardage.

White has hopes of playing professionally.

His speed, once lacking, has improved over the years. But perhaps his best attribute is his good hands, what Murphy calls the "best, softest hands" of any Fullerton player he has coached, and that Barber calls the best he has thrown to.

"I think Todd caught probably the first pass thrown to him when he was a kid," Barber said.

Murphy said he feels confident White will be drafted by an NFL team, but won't hazard a guess as to the round.

"I don't know where I stand," White said. "If I can just get a shot at a team. . . . Right now, though, my main concern is our season, trying to finish 8-4. But the day the season's over, I'll be thinking about (the possibility of playing professionally) more than anything."

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