Throughout the offseason, North Carolina football coach Butch Davis described Johnny White as the hardest-working player on the team.
On Saturday, he was the hardest-working player on the field.
The senior fought for all 113 rushing yards he amassed while in the starting role at tailback in front of Shaun Draughn, the former starter who had been cleared to play by the University and the NCAA on Monday.
During his career, White has seen time in the backfield, on defense and on special teams. But he had never solidified his spot on the squad until Saturday.
“You saw the passion that Johnny ran with — helmets were flying and he was dragging people,” Davis said. “He really ran the ball very well.”
White racked up 148 yards in total offense and touched the ball in one-third of UNC’s offensive plays. When he got the starting nod over Draughn and backup Anthony Elzy, he took it as a vote of confidence.
“I’m just going by whatever they were going with,” White said. “I’m glad that they trust in me to carry the ball whenever they need me to.”
In two UNC first-half drives, White chewed up 45 yards on the ground and caught a beautiful 29-yard throw from T.J. Yates before being replaced by Draughn in the red zone.
The first drive ended in a Casey Barth field goal, and the second a Yates quarterback keeper for a one-yard score.
The two-running back system is not uncommon for UNC and is usually cast by Draughn and Ryan Houston, who is one of 12 Tar Heels sidelined during an NCAA investigation. Davis said the system is even more important due to the number of players who now sit in the stands.
“I liked the fact that we got Shaun Draughn back,” Davis said. “I think you have to have more than one running back. Johnny had to play some on special teams; you saw Shaun returning kickoffs. It was good to have both of those guys available.”
Halftime didn’t slow White’s momentum, and on North Carolina’s first drive of the second half, the senior back needed just three plays to go 47 yards for his first score of the game.
He didn’t forget how those plays that got him to pay dirt came about, though.
“Coach called my number three times in a row and the (offensive) line opened up some big holes for me and I just ran through and tried to do whatever I could,” said White, who added that ball security was a point of emphasis in practice after he fumbled two weeks ago against LSU.
The Yellow Jackets’ domination of time of possession in the second half forced White and the UNC offense to watch from the sidelines as Georgia Tech ate more than 20 minutes from the second-half clock.
But at the end of the day, Davis said that despite his frustration with the loss, White met the expectations he sets for his players.
“The measure of a man, the measure of your team and players is, are they giving you everything they can, and are they getting better,” Davis said.
“I think Johnny proved today that he is a tough, tough kid and he ran with an awful lot of heart and an awful lot of passion.”
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.