By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The quarterback stood at the podium in the team room at Milan Puskar Stadium on Thursday afternoon, his Pro Day workout completed. He was no longer a Mountaineer, but the records he had set seemingly safe for at least another generation in the school’s record book.
He talked about his love for the game and how he wanted to make his mark on it at the professional level, about how much he was willing to sacrifice to fulfill his dreams.
And then Pat White talked about what an awful mistake he had made to walk away from the game.
This, of course, was supposed to be a day to celebrate the skills of today’s quarterback, Geno Smith, who is in line to be the first quarterback chosen in April’s NFL draft, and he had done nothing do disappoint anyone in his performance before coaches, general managers and scouts from 29 of the 32 NFL teams.
But it was White, who worked out with former WVU players in a closed session whose words were the most compelling as he explained what drove him from the game, how difficult it was to be away, what pushed him back toward it and how his dog, Chief Charmalot, played a key role in it all.
White has dubbed his comeback attempt “Operation Relaunch,” and in many ways he is doing it because he was incomplete without football, something he plans to remedy.
“I am just following my heart,” he said. “I tried to run from myself, had nowhere to go and my heart brought me right back to the game of football. I’m going to do it until the day I die.”
One must go back to the days when White was running Rich Rodriguez’s offense, setting national records for running quarterbacks while completing better than 60 percent of his passes. There was much doubt, however, as he came out of WVU about his ability to be an NFL quarterback, much along the same lines as there was doubt about Tim Tebow when he came out of Florida.
Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins took a chance and drafted White, but it did not work out, and after suffering a concussion, he left football, off to try and find himself as a baseball player, as an actor, but really wandering aimlessly through life.
“It was probably the hardest years of my life. Thankfully I had good people around me – my family, my friends … and my dog. It kept me going,” he said.
One can understand the role family and friends would play.
But his dog?
“He kept me active. Without him I’d probably be sitting in front of a computer screen for 18 hours a day. With him I had to get out and run. He’s a Doberman. He had a lot of energy,” White explained.
And the name, Chief Charmalot.
“He goes by Charm,” White said. “The reason for the name Charm is I was in a condo. He’s a big dog, and I didn’t want people to be afraid of him. I wanted a name that was inviting and I couldn’t call him Chief, because my father is the Chief. They both will tear your head off.”
So there was White, his family, friends and Chief Charmalot keeping him going but going where?
“I couldn’t watch football for about a year and a half or two years after I left the game,” he revealed. “I knew the first time I was to turn on the TV and watch a game that the passion was still there.”
He was ready to return, although he had no idea what to expect. And those who think it came about because he saw the success of the read-option quarterback like Robert Griffin III that brought him back to the game are wrong.
“I guess a lot of people were saying I was ahead of my time. I say I wasn’t patient enough for my time,” he said. “Football is what I love. It’s what I’m going to be around until the day they put me 6 feet under.”
A call from the Edmonton Eskimos offering him a chance to come back got him revved up, but he wasn’t ready to go to the CFL. Not then. He wanted to test the NFL waters again.
“I knew it would be hard. The game of football is not much different than when you played as a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old. The guys are a lot bigger and a lot faster and a lot smarter, but it’s still the same game,” he explained.
So he went off to work out at George Whitfield’s Whitfield Academy, a training place for quarterbacks. And it was like riding a bicycle. It came back.
“Whitfield was saying I was a 195-pound quarterback throwing like I’m 215,” White said, his weight having jumped from that 195 to 205 since deciding to return.
He believes he will make it.
“That’s how you succeed in life. If you don’t believe, no one else will,” he said.
It is the most important thing in his life that he succeeds, and he’d like to do it as a quarterback.
“I’m open to be a football player, but my heart is at quarterback,” he said. “I’ll take any opportunity I get right now. I just want to get back in the game, but my heart is behind the center.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.