JACKSON — Two years ago, Chris White was a lightly recruited linebacker who garnered just two scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs before deciding to play for Mississippi State.
It’s become pretty obvious the Bulldogs hit the jackpot.
White won the Cellular South Conerly Trophy on Tuesday night, an honor given to Mississippi’s top college football player. The other finalists were Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault and Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis.
“It’s something I’ll always cherish,” White said. “It’s a really special award for me and for my family.”
White, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior from Vancleave, Miss., has been one of the Southeastern Conference’s most productive defensive players this season, making 105 tackles, including 15 1/2 for a loss. He also had six sacks and two interceptions.
The Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) ended the regular season with a 31-23 victory over Mississippi in the Egg Bowl on Saturday and await word on their bowl destination. It’s the first time MSU has been bowl eligible since 2007 and only the second time this decade.
Mississippi coach Dan Mullen said White was one of his first recruits when he took the job two years ago. He flew down to Vancleave, which is on the Gulf Coast, and White showed him pictures of the deer he and his girlfriend had recently shot while hunting.
Mullen, who is from New Hampshire and a self-proclaimed Yankee, laughed at the memory.
“That’s when I realized exactly where I was,” he said.
White picked Mississippi State over South Florida, and had a decent season as a junior at outside linebacker in 2009. But during the offseason, Mullen and new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz decided to move White to inside linebacker, and his production jumped dramatically.
“He believed in the program we were building and showed up for us from day one,” Mullen said.
White credited his success to Diaz, because of the coach’s aggressive scheme that led to plenty of opportunities for big plays.
“He’s got an attacking style defense,” White said. “(Mississippi quarterback) Jeremiah Masoli told me earlier that he can’t stand defenses that blitz all the time like that. It confuses the offense. It makes it tough on them.”
Diaz said White was the perfect candidate to lead the Bulldogs’ defense because he had a potent combination of speed and smarts. He said the only difficult part was convincing White he could be an All-SEC caliber player.
“He’s a super humble kid and that’s a good thing,” Diaz said. “But we wanted to carry himself like a dominant player and he really did that this season. We really cut him loose, let him roam sideline to sideline and he was all over the place making plays.”
White is the fourth Mississippi State player to win the Conerly Trophy in the award’s 15-year history. The award is decided by 46 media members from across the state representing print, radio and television.
It’s the first time that one school has had back-to-back players win the Conerly. MSU running back Anthony Dixon, who is now with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, won in 2009.
There were 10 nominees for this year’s award, including White, Therriault, Davis, Masoli, Alcorn State quarterback Brandon Bridge, Belhaven quarterback Alex Williams, Delta State quarterback Micah Davis, Millsaps running back Shane Bowser, Mississippi College quarterback Tommy Reyer and Mississippi Valley State linebacker Markkus Davis.
David Brandt/The Associated Press