Friday, October 20, 2006

Grambling greats: Sammy White

GSU's White will finally land in SWAC Hall of Fame
December 6, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - On first glance, interim Grambling State coach Melvin Spears had a common response: "Sammy White is not in the SWAC Hall of Fame?"

Doug Williams, who played with White at GSU, has been saying the same thing for years.

That changes on Friday, when this Richwood High product - now GSU's offensive coordinator - receives the Southwestern Athletic Conference's highest honor.

For the unassuming White, it's a dramatic moment.

"I guess you play these games, and you really play for the love of it," said White, a two-time all-SWAC first-team member in 1973 and '75. "Then, if you do pretty good and something special-like happens, it's an honor and blessing."

Induction ceremonies will be held during the SWAC Hall of Fame dinner at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Center in Birmingham, Ala.

"When we discovered that he wasn't in the hall," said Spears, "we immediately nominated him. I went down the list and I could not believe Sammy's name wasn't there. Not just because of what he accomplished here, but he went on to great things."

White's best season at GSU was his last, when he was named the conference's co-offensive player of the year as a senior. He would eventually pull down 37 passes for 802 yards and 17 touchdowns from the young Williams.

"It was a comfortable environment to go into," White said of Grambling, just more than 30 miles down the road from where he played high school ball. "I got to play with Coach Williams in my third year. He came in throwing the ball so hard - 65, 70 yards on a line drive. We had to sit down and talk to him, to tell him: `You've got to give us a chance, throw something we could run under.' He came right in, though, and was a top-flight quarterback from day one."

That connection would be rekindled when Williams gave White a coaching job at GSU years later.

"There's no one who deserves it more," Williams said of the honor. "I don't think, coming into Grambling, that I could have been as productive without him. He had a quiet leadership on that team. And he made plays."

White was also able to reunite in Grambling with three older players from his youth in Richwood, south of Monroe - Matthew Reed, Charlie Smith and Amos Augustine.

"I never played with them in high school, but I got that chance there," said White. "I would watch them on Friday nights back at Richwood - just dreaming I could so some of those things."

He could: White's teams won three SWAC titles for former coach Eddie Robinson. He was then drafted in the second round by Minnesota - not that White was expecting it.

"A lot of people sit around watching television today," he said. "I said to myself: `It'll happen if it will happen.' They had to come out on campus to find me. I never thought of myself as The Guy. I always played just to be one of the best guys. If it didn't happen, I wasn't going to fall out about it."

White was a three-time All-Pro selection over 11 seasons in Minnesota. He set Vikings team records for receiving yards, touchdowns and yards in a game for a rookie that stood until Randy Moss broke through in 1998.

A career highlight was White's five-reception, 77-yard performance in the 1977 Super Bowl loss to Oakland, one that included an 8-yard score. Even as the 2004 season began, White - who earned a spot on the Vikings' 25th anniversary team - remained ranked No. 5 all-time for points scored in Minnesota.

Still, it's likely that White's very demeanor, his easy-going style and friendly way, have pushed him under the radar. Even he admits that.

"When I was playing," White said, "it was just for the love of the game."

In fact, the one time anybody can remember White celebrating, disaster struck.

A seven-catch, 210-yard performance with two scores in a 1976 win over the Detroit Lions was marred when he fumbled another potential score while celebrating too early.

"Over my whole career," White admitted and chuckled, "that was my biggest celebration, holding the ball up - and it was one that cost me a touchdown. It didn't pay off at all."

Williams hired White to coach receivers at GSU in 1998, and the team flourished - including a stellar 2002 season that saw this offense ranked first in the nation for passing and scoring offense in Division I-AA.

"Nobody was better with those players," Williams said. "He showed by example."

Spears promoted White to offensive coordinator during this past off-season, after Williams departed for the NFL and Spears took over as interim head coach.

"If you did not know who Sammy White was, you'd never think he played in the National Football League," Spears said. "He's just a down-home guy. But he does a great job as this team's offensive coordinator."

Awards like this one get White to reminiscing about his former coach at GSU, the legendary Robinson - a man who meant so much to the player as a young man.

"You have to think about Coach Robinson. I always said one of the great things about my career was that I had great coaches, all the way back to high school. Eddie Robinson just took us to another level, with his teaching. He talked about being a good football player but also about being a good person."

White's 102 points for the Tigers in 1975 wasn't bested until Walter Dean scored 110 in 1991. Only five players in GSU history have scored more points in a single season; two others have tied White.

"There was nothing flashy," said Spears. "He just executed, week in and week out."

In the past 45 seasons in Grambling, only six players - including Pro Football Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner - have bested White's senior-year average of 21.7 yards per reception. His 17 touchdowns in 1975 rank third all time, though White is tied with four others.

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Five Questions with Grambling's Sammy White
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grambling State and Richwood product Sammy White made his mark at every level, winning titles in high school and college, then becoming a cornerstone of the Minnesota Vikings franchise. Recognition has come in the form of SWAC Hall of Fame induction last year and then a spot on the Vikings' All-1970s Team recently compiled by Eric Krupka of Today, White has fashioned Division I-AA's most prolific passing attack as the offensive coordinator at GSU. But questions loom with the graduation of Bruce Eugene, a three-year starter. News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso asks them:

Give me your scouting report on Grambling's quarterback situation with Bruce gone.

Brandon (Landers, a Carroll product and former SWAC freshman of the year) has a strong arm and he's gotten better with the scheme, after a year behind Bruce. He's still lacking some film work, but the way I see it right now, he's the frontrunner. (Sophomore Houston product) Larry Kerlegan is very instinctive. He plays more with his legs than his arm right now, though. And with the receivers we've got, we need a big arm.

Talking about big arms, the buzz on the yard has been about Desmond Brentley, that Pittsburgh prep signee.

Brentley does have a really good arm. He looks to pick up on our scheme very quickly. But in our offense, it's just tough to start right out of high school. You have to do a whole lot of reads when it comes to the opposing defenses. They tell you where to go. All those years we had Bruce, and he still had his best year after sitting out (with a knee injury in 2004). He got to experience the game as a coach, and he became more patient. He became more of a student of the game. They all have to work on that.

Henry Tolbert and Clyde Edwards, your top receivers, both return. How do you fit in a talent like (Georgia Tech transfer) LeKeldrick Bridges?

You'll have to account for everybody, and that means guys like Bridges will get some numbers. But guys like Bridges will actually make it easier for Henry and Clyde to have big days. Even if other teams double-team them, they both have such a drive for the ball. They are going to try to make a play. Those two will still be productive, no matter what happens.

Your 10 seasons in Minnesota included rookie of the year honors and a Super Bowl appearance. What was it like to be named to the Vikings' All-1970s Team?

It really feels good, knowing that you were appreciated. It means so much when they still show you love after your playing days are over. I just got a card from a guy to sign that talked about old-time players, and how different things are. We played 100 percent every play, for the love of the game. There's a new breed today.

The Vikings let Daunte Culpepper go, and he ended up in Miami — with one of your former teammates (Mike Mularkey, once a Minnesota tight end) as his offensive coordinator. What do you make of that?

I pull for them to get in the playoffs every year, but letting Daunte get away? Not only is he an experienced, starting quarterback, but you put any kind of receivers around him, and that guy is a big plus for your team. These days, the passing game opens up the running game in the NFL. He'll be fine in Miami; they're putting together a good team down there. But it's unfortunate for the Vikings.

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GSU's great provider
South side of Monroe has been talent pipeline
February 6, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - James Harris grew up right around the corner from Sammy White.

Who lived down the way from Lane Howell. Who lived near a street that would eventually produce a flinty talent named Brandon Landers.

Who shares a zip code with Desmond Lenard.

The south side of Monroe sent them all to Grambling State, in an unbroken storyline that continued through last week's National Signing Day.

"I grew up in that neighborhood," said Sammy White, a Richwood product who played and now coaches at GSU as offensive coordinator. "It gives me great joy to see where these guys progress and how they move along."

In 1965, a Carroll High product was quarterback at Grambling. Forty years later, Landers is likely to follow Harris into the role.

White was a star wingback for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson - after winning both football and basketball titles at Richwood in the early 1970s. Lenard, Carroll's wingback last season, committed to Grambling after earning All-Northeast honors as a kick returner.

Derrick Wilhite, a 2006 signee out of Wossman, contributes to a legacy that includes ex-Wildcats assistant Lee Fobbs, a former player under Robinson, and current defensive back Bakari Guice.

"There's no question that the south side of Monroe has added to that Grambling mystique," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "From the Howells to James Harris to Goldie Sellers and on down to Brandon Landers - our freshman sensation in '04."

Landers shot to conference freshman of the year honors in relief of injured quarterback Bruce Eugene, then redshirted last year when Eugene returned for a final season of eligibility.

"I think this is a good place for finding highly skilled athletes - and that's true at many inner-city schools," said Carroll coach Jesse Smith Sr., who is also a Grambling product.

"There is a lot of talent in this area. I think that through the years, we've proven that."

Carroll's connection to GSU goes deeper than the head coach.

Back in 2001, current Bulldogs assistant Levi Washington Jr. led all receivers in yards as Grambling won the second of three straight SWAC titles. The team uses an offense patterned on GSU's, as well.

So, it's perhaps no surprise that Carroll split end Jesse Smith Jr. joined Lenard in signing with Grambling last week - along with teammates Derrick Johnson and Xavier Lee, both of whom play linebacker.

In the end, though, all three of the southside schools - notably Richwood and, more recently, Wossman - have been an important thread through the tapestry of Grambling's football legacy.

"It's great coming from that tradition," said Landers. "I'd like to have that same impact - not only as a player, but as an individual."

Harris, perhaps the south side's most legendary product, led Grambling to 31-9-1 record between 1965-68, winning a conference title every single year. He was voted the team's most valuable player his final two seasons.

But Landers reminds, Harris' most important contribution came after he left Grambling.

Harris would become the first black athlete to be drafted as a quarterback. His NFL career - which included stops in Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego - was capped by an MVP performance in the 1974 Pro Bowl.

Harris later moved into even more rarified air, working in the front offices of Baltimore and currently Jacksonville as one of the NFL's highest ranking black executives.

Smith said Grambling provided a platform in that journey, and for the scores of southside youths who followed him.

"Anytime you've got a kid who goes on and does well, that's an example that you can stir these kids with," said Smith. "It makes them understand that you can dream and it can happen."

Carroll's Lane Howell, a two-way lineman for Robinson, was the first of three brothers to star at Grambling, beginning in 1960. Michael, a cornerback nicknamed "Trackdown," followed two seasons later. Delles, another defensive back, would arrive seven seasons later - but by then the family had moved to California.

Grambling won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference title with Lane up front, establishing a 23-5-2 mark between 1960-62. Michael's 1964 squad went 9-3, winning the Sugar Cup over Bishop before falling in the Orange Blossom Classic.

One of Michael's teammates that season was cornerback Goldie "Spider" Sellers, a Winnsboro native who eventually moved to the south side and played for Richwood.

In 2004, White joined Harris in the SWAC Hall of Fame, recognition for a career that included three conference championships and co-offensive player of the year honors in 1975 at Grambling.

"It was passed down to me," said White, later an NFL rookie of the year at Minnesota. "James Harris and Delles took me to a Grambling basketball game when I was in junior high. I was always around it. There were other places I could have played, but this was the only place I was ever going."

Quarterback Matthew Reed, born in Winnfield, would prove so dominant at Richwood that he once threw nine touchdowns in a single game. Later, he was named Grambling's MVP as a junior, then made All-America as a senior in the early 1970s.

White grew up idolizing Amos Augustine and Charlie "Tank" Smith at Richwood, then played after them at Grambling. Between 1968-71, former Carroll guard Solomon Freelon Jr. protected Harris, Reed and Frank Holmes.

White says many of those greats called a neighborhood known as Bryant's Addition home. He still scouts for talent there, giving another generation the Grambling road map out of one of the area's most impoverished communities.

"The thing about it is, we thought we were pretty good - and these guys could be that too," said White. "It's all about hard work."

Landers, for his part, says he can't account for the staggering impact such a small geographic area has had on Grambling. But, when he's home, he sees the next group working to get there.

"If you ride around, you see little kids out playing in empty lots and at the rec centers - and that's year-round," said Landers. "They're playing everything too, just like we did. Football, basketball, baseball. With small schools, you've got guys going both ways, playing all sports. That makes you better. Who knows? One of those kids could follow me someday."

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White makes nice move up
Dedication to GSU earns receivers coach promotion to offensive coordinator.
March 22, 2004

GRAMBLING - Sammy White, one of Richwood High's greatest products, has been named offensive coordinator at Grambling State by interim coach Melvin Spears.

To think, White - who was later all-conference at GSU then a three-time All-Pro with the Minnesota Vikings - wasn't even in football a few years ago. He was selling cars at a local dealership.

But then former GSU coach Doug Williams - who had thrown so many of the touchdown passes that White caught in college - called.

"It's a big fairy tale," White said. "When I quit professional football (in 1985), I thought I was done competing. Coach Williams, Coach Spears and I, we've been able to revitalize this program. It was quite an accomplishment. But to be named offensive coordinator? It's just a dream come true."

White was promoted from receivers coach, where he has shepherded the record-breaking Grambling State careers of current Detroit Lions wideout Scotty Anderson and Tramon Douglas - the SWAC's career leader in receiving yards.

"He's a guy I've always admired," Spears said. "For him to be here, from the standpoint of the legends he's worked with - Coach Robinson, Coach Williams, Bud Grant, Ahmad Rashad, Fran Tarkenton - it's going to be a blessing for our players."

An assistant as Williams added three SWAC titles to the 17 that former GSU coach Eddie Robinson won while a head coach at GSU, White was also part of three Black College National and SWAC championships as the wingback in Robinson's classic run-oriented Wing T formation.

That doesn't mean the basic offensive philosophy will change, White said.

"Our running backs have good size and strength - and to shorten the game is always a good idea," he said. "But Coach Spears is the head coach, so we'll still take our shots."

Grambling State's offense broke more than a dozen school records last season, finishing at No. 1 among every Division I-AA school in passing and scoring.

A first choice among Grambling greats

White was one of Williams' first hires when taking over in 1998 as the first new coach at GSU since Robinson came on board in 1941.

"I've got a lot of respect for Sammy," said Williams, who was a teammate of White's at Grambling State from 1974-75. Williams resigned in February after six seasons at GSU to take an executive position in personnel with Tampa Bay, the club that drafted him in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft.

"He's come a long way from when we first started coaching together," Williams said. "Over the past two or three years, Sammie has been a vital part of our success. One thing is, you've got to listen to Sammie. He's been there. His input has been crucial. He's been creative and important. The kids like him. He's more of a teacher. He shows them how it's to be done."

GSU receiver Moses Harris said White's personal touch has been of vital importance to the SWAC's most dangerous passing attack.

"With that hands-on approach, people pick it up more quickly," said Harris, who will be one of GSU quarterback Bruce Eugene's top targets this season. "I think promoting Coach White is a great decision. Knowing that everybody is comfortable with each other gives me a lot of confidence for this year."

Upholding the Robinson legacy

White was a two-sport star at Richwood, helping to lead the Rams to a Class 3A state hoops title, alongside current Grambling State basketball coach Larry Wright.

But he found his greatest successes on the gridiron.

White, a first-team All-SWAC selection in 1973 and '75, was named the SWAC's co-offensive player of the year as a senior. He caught 37 passes for 802 yards and 17 touchdowns, all from Williams, that year.

He went on to become an integral part of a Vikings team that reached the Super Bowl after the 1976 season, the 1977 NFC championship - and then the divisional playoff round both a year later and in 1982.

A highlight for White was his 8-yard scoring reception against Oakland in Super Bowl XI in Pasadena, Calif. A lowlight came the same day, when the Raiders' Jack Tatum knocked off White's helmet in a crushing blow that has been included on countless highlight reels.

White's 906 yards as a rookie in 1976 stood as a Minnesota team record until Randy Moss eclipsed it in 1998. His all-time team mark for touchdowns and yards-in-a-game by a rookie were also finally bested by Moss during the same year.

This promotion for White means that Spears - a graduate of Alcorn State - has two Grambling State graduates and former assistants as his top advisors. Defensive coordinator Tom Lavigne also played for Robinson and was an assistant at GSU in the early 1980s.

"Sammy falls into line with a whole list of greats who've been through here," Spears said. "He upholds the Robinson legacy - meaning Coach Rob will still have a significant part in this program."

White and the former Penny Fortner have two children, Sammie III and Samantha.

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Sunday, August 1, 2004

As a three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honoree, Sammy White's legacy at Grambling State was secure, long before he was named offensive coordinator this past spring. White was selected in the second round of the NFL draft, and was named NFL rookie of the year in 1976 after gaining more yards and scoring more touchdowns than any other NFC receiver. But he's not one for laurel resting. White and the rest of the Grambling State football staff are at the Tennessee Titans' training camp today, where they will learn new techniques in coaching - and get a look at how one of White's greatest students, Tramon Douglas, is doing. Douglas, who now holds most of the meaningful receiving records at GSU, signed an undrafted rookie contract with the Titans in April. White talks with News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso about losing Douglas - and getting started on his first season at the helm of the Grambling State offense:

Do you miss Tramon already?

Sure. But he's moved on - hopefully to bigger and better things. With (sophomore receiver) Tim Abney's groin injury, that's two of the bullets in our offensive gun now missing. Aaron Johnson, who returned kicks last year, has had a tough time coming back - breaking his leg two years ago seemed to really get into his head. But he has come out and really had a good spring. Aaron can fill in for Tim, along with (converted junior running back) Henry Tolbert.

Who else is coming on among your receivers?

Paul Hardiman - the redshirt freshman. He catches the ball well. Last year, he just had to get a little stronger, a little more physical. Then there's Tolbert: He's a utility guy; you can put him on the line or in the backfield. Looking at Henry's body now, it looks like he's ready to do anything. He's got good speed, and good knowledge of the game.

You guys are loving Clyde Edwards, the freshman from Westbury High in Houston.

He has shown that he knows what he's doing. If he can come in with this kind of knowledge and ability, it says a lot about his coaching in high school.

Most fans figure a one-time halfback in Eddie Robinson's legendary Wing-T will bring more balance to this offense.

Balance is a goal. As a coordinator, I know balance is what keeps a defense guessing. If you can keep them guessing, then nine times out of 10, you come out ahead. They are off balance. Hopefully, with the size of the offensive linemen (who average, White says, more than 300 pounds) that we have, our running game should be easy to establish. If they take a few steps forward, you ought to be able to get some yardage! (Laughs.)

Is (junior running back) Ab Kuuan your ace in the hole then? Am I revealing trade secrets?

He's an every-down back. But we are also hoping to get him into the five-receiver sets. If we get him into that, then it's a nice trick. We can shift around, and that would be another big plus for our offense. Make no mistake, though, I would love to establish the run. I'm a fan of the play-action pass. If you can run the ball, you can do that. If you can't run the ball, then that's called a straight drop! (Laughs.)

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Williams, White share in GSU family history
October 30, 2003

Though they are sideline partners now - and were, of course, former college teammates - Grambling State's Doug Williams and receivers coach Sammy White played for bitter rivals in the NFL.

Williams was drafted in the first round of the 1978 draft by Tampa Bay, while White was picked in the second round in 1976 and played for Minnesota.

"He was a couple of years ahead of me," Williams says of their time playing for Eddie Robinson in the 1970s at GSU. "But we ended up in the same division, so we played twice a year."

White was a Vikings receiver from 1976-85, while Williams played for division foe Tampa Bay from 1978-82. That meant 10 meetings between them in all - with Williams holding the slight career edge at 5-4.

"You don't always want to rehash it - because he was in a situation with a team that wasn't always as good," White says. "My situation was totally different: I came onto a team that had a bunch of Hall of Famers."

While Fran Tarkenton was leading Minnesota to the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers started 0-26 as an expansion franchise - before Williams arrived.

Even so, "my first win came against them - at Tampa," Williams says. Score: 16-10, in 1978. "We always had some good battles, the five years I was there."

Williams' best showing against White's Vikings was 1979, when the two teams split the wins by a total of just three points. The Bucs went on to the NFC championship game before falling to the Los Angeles Rams.

Current Tampa Bay coach Jon "Gruden used to catch balls with me on Sunday - along with (current Bucs general manager) Rich McKay," Williams says. "I still pull for them."

The truth is, though, that the best of White's Vikings teams were from the period just before Williams came out of Grambling State.

With White leading all receivers as a rookie, Minnesota advanced to the Super Bowl in 1976 - falling to Oakland. The Vikings also played through to the NFC championship the next year, losing to Dallas.

"I kind of felt bad for him, because he didn't come into a situation like that," White says.

They reminisce, Williams says, about players from back then, but rarely about their team's contests against one another. Not that they don't remember: "One game, I had 486 yards on them - and still lost," Williams says, laughing.

The 2003 version of both teams appear to be headed to the playoffs, with Minnesota becoming the last unbeaten team to fall just last Sunday. Tampa Bay - Super Bowl champs in 2002 - beat Dallas to remain in second place in the NFC South.

White still keeps up, too. "You're always going to watch a team that you went to war with," White says. "There was a family atmosphere up there. It is now and it always has been."

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