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LORENZO WHITE : Noblest Spartan

December 30, 1987|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

When Lorenzo White runs, he glides more than he strides, cutting and veering and swerving and never seeming to be where the defense thinks he is. His style is deception.

When he talks, he picks his words carefully, the way he chooses openings in a broken field. His voice is so low that sometimes it is almost inaudible, forcing listeners to press in around him--the way tacklers would if they could.

His answers, and his reasoning behind them, however, are straightforward. He is not a man for alibis, not a man for lamenting when things don't go his way.

Lorenzo White is, though, a man with lofty goals.

Before his senior year began at Michigan State, White said that he wanted to win the Heisman Trophy, to go to the Rose Bowl and to break Marcus Allen's collegiate record of 2,342 yards gained in a single season.

One out of three, in that league, isn't bad.

And he got the one he says he wanted the most--the Rose Bowl.

"My goal when I was recruited by Michigan State was to lead my team to a (Big Ten) conference championship and the Rose Bowl that goes along with that," White said during a lull in preparations for Friday's 47th annual New Year's Day game against USC. "I always considered it my primary goal. The Heisman was my personal goal.

"Getting to the Rose Bowl was the best Christmas present I could give my mother (Gloria Golden of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and my daughter, Monique Octavia. My mother is my No. 1 fan and she'll be here for the game."

Monique is 3, and will remain in Florida with her mother, White's girlfriend.

After White had run for 1,908 yards in regular-season games in 1985--a record for sophomores--it was almost as if Lorenzo became his middle name. He became Heisman candidate Lorenzo White. He and his mother, who is the head cook for the Broward County schools, felt so strongly about it that they prepared a spot on the mantle for not one, but two, of them.

It never happened. Twice, he finished fourth in the balloting, in 1985 to Auburn's Bo Jackson, Iowa's Chuck Long and Brigham Young's Robbie Bosco, and this year to Notre Dame's Tim Brown, Syracuse's Don McPherson and Holy Cross' Gordie Lockbaum.

"I dreamed of the Heisman for three years, sure," he acknowledged. "I think I had a good shot at it, I did all I could possibly do and I just didn't win it. Now that's over with and I've still got my No. 1 goal ahead, to go out and do my best to win my last game with the team."

Pressed to further explain his feelings, his disappointment, perhaps even frustration at not winning the Heisman, White sat silent for a long moment, looked at his interviewers and said, slowly and deliberately:

"It depends on what the award is about. Over the three years I was up for it, I don't know what it took. I thought I had a chance, a shot, but now I know it takes some luck to win it.

"My sophomore year, I go ahead and have the best year but I don't win it because they say I'm too young. (No sophomore has ever won the Heisman. White gained 2,066 yards, Jackson 1,786 and each scored 17 touchdowns).

"OK, in my junior year I come out and am the leading candidate and I get hurt. But I got all the hype in the world and they say hype wins the trophy, but I didn't have the yards because I didn't get in that many games. (He missed two games and played sparingly in three others because of knee and ankle injuries, and gained only 633 yards.) That was fine. I was glad when (Miami's) Vinny Testaverde won it. He's a good guy.

"In my senior year, I think I had some hype, not as much as my junior year, but some. I think I had a good enough season to be a contender for the Heisman. I came back and had a good senior year, I had 1,500 yards (1,459 to be exact), that's pretty good.

"And if you want to talk about overall career, none of the four candidates could touch my record. Over the four years I was in college, they were nowhere close to me.

"So I don't know. I guess you have to be favored, be liked a lot. I don't know what it takes."

George Perles, White's coach, is not so diplomatic.

"I don't put as much value in it (the Heisman) as I once did," he said. "It seems to be a flexible thing. What does it really mean?

"This year, it went to a special-teams player who had a big junior year. They said he earned it because he made the defense afraid of him. What are they going to do next, give it to a decoy?

"The vote was held before the season ended. That's stupid, that's when what a player does in the big games takes on added importance. It seems to me it's all screwed up. I lost all interest in it. I'd rather have a Rhodes Scholar on my team than a Heisman winner, anyway."

What it all came down to was Sept. 19, a single afternoon in Notre Dame Stadium in front of a national TV audience--including many Heisman voters.

Brown was electrifying, running punts back 71 and 66 yards for touchdowns and catching 4 passes for 72 yards.

White had his poorest day of the season, netting only 51 yards in 19 carries as Notre Dame buried the Spartans, 31-8.

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