MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Alabama State, the alma mater of his mother, Vonametris ... now that was his team. Tuskegee, too. All the historically black college football programs around the state, around the South, were more attractive to Patrick White while growing up. At those games, he said, "I probably had a lot better time." Auburn? The closest major-college team in the state? The school of 93 victories, two Sugar and Cotton bowls apiece, one NCAA probation and a Bo Jackson all in the first decade of his life?
• Game: Auburn (4-3) at West Virginia (4-2), 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
• Where: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
• TV: ESPN.
"I wasn't too impressed from early childhood," he said with a shrug the other day. "A big-time program. I really didn't like it that much. Just not where I wanted to be."
Besides, he added, "I was more of an LSU fan."
LSU -- six miles closer to his Daphne, Ala., home than Auburn -- was enamored of White, but as a receiver. So, when Daphne High coach Steve Savarese phoned then-West Virginia assistant Rick Trickett to impart the news about White committing to LSU, Trickett implored the coach and the family to hold on, he'd be right down. Trickett was publicly showing that night how much the Mountaineers coaches valued White's quarterbacking ability and privately telling boss Rich Rodriguez this was the spread-offense wizard who could help them someday compete for a national championship.
And so White was, until the night of Dec. 1.
This Thursday night, White at long last gets a chance at a home-state team. Even though it didn't interest him as a future university, it long has intrigued him as a future foe. When the contract was announced three years ago last month, White and West Virginia (4-2) were scheduled to play Sept. 6, 2008, in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium. Imagine that scenario: senior season's second week, high rankings and higher expectations, Heisman Trophy hopes, a homecoming of sorts amid the south-Alabama sawgrass.
In hindsight, it might have been a more scintillating game for West Virginia than East Carolina that day.
"Did it bum me out?" White repeated, when asked about his feelings once Auburn (4-3) flipped the schedule to come to Mountaineer Field this fall and bring West Virginia to Jordan-Hare Stadium Sept. 19, 2009. "It did. But, I mean, I got a lot of family coming to this game, too. They'll get to see it."
Little has been seen of White lately. Last Saturday against Syracuse, he missed his first start after 19 consecutive and 35 of 36. He missed the fourth quarters of the previous games against Marshall (bruised thumb) and Rutgers (concussion). How's the head now? On a scale of one to 10, White offered, he's a 30.
After finally returning to practice, he said, "I feel like my feet are back under me."
That isn't exactly happy news to Auburn, as Tigers defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks well knows. Marks played against White twice while at Mobile's Vigor High, where the Mountaineers' Ellis Lankster was a teammate. White, a two-time Big East offensive player of the year, looks no different than the player Marks faced in high school.
"Pat White was the same then as he is at West Virginia," Marks said. "In high school, they had a quarterback mid-line [play], and I had the unfortunate job of running a three-technique [at nose guard]. It felt like they ran at me every time." Most every play, White was off and "running like a deer. Oh, man. Crazy.
"Everybody knew Pat from Mobile way," continued Marks, a fellow Playboy preseason All-American. "They knew we messed up before [in failing to recruit him], they knew what kind of talent he had. He just showcased his talent from Daphne and Mobile nationwide. He just showed other people what he can do."
In their home state, football allegiances vary almost exclusively between Roll Tide and War Eagle. "It's a lifestyle, to love Alabama and hate Auburn, or vice versa," White said. Added little brother Coley, a red-shirting freshman who remembers Tide/Tigers dress-up days in elementary school: "It's hard, 'cause that's all you heard. But I think that's changed a lot 'cause more players are looking at different schools." For one: West Virginia, which has Lankster, fellow Mobile product Trippe Hale as well as the Whites, plus former players such as Alabamians Abraham Jones and Joe Hunter. Shoot, until Trickett recruited his middle brother, Coley joked that he "didn't know West Virginia was a state." Oldest-brother Bo went to West Liberty State in the northern panhandle.
Patrick White's state of now-clear mind for Thursday isn't overly agitated, not that it ever is. He isn't bothered by recent criticism of the offense or his medical condition ("You think I care what people say? If it wasn't my family, I wasn't listening."). He isn't primed for 5-year-old recruiting revenge against Auburn.
Come on -- don't the atmospheric conditions involving the home-state team, the roiling Thursday-night home crowd, the national television cameras, the sideline appearance of ESPN's Erin Andrews make it just a tad more interesting for him? "I guess," the cool quarterback deadpanned, "I better get a little more amped up."
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .