COLUMBIA — When Darius White finally crossed the goal line, he knew he had made the right decision.
It had been nearly 21 months since he left the University of Texas in search of a “fresh start.” That led to a scholarship offer from Missouri, which led to a year of ineligibility because of NCAA transfer rules, which led to countless hours on the scout team in practice.
And all of that hard work led to a simple post route in the third quarter of Saturday’s 58-14 victory over Murray State.
“When coach gave us the call, and I saw the safety rotate over, I was like, ‘Man, this is gonna be wide open,’” White said. “I looked up, the ball was coming to me and all I could think was, ‘Just catch it.’”
White did and then scampered into the end zone for the first touchdown of his Tigers career.
“When I crossed the goal line,” White said, “I was like, ‘This is it. This is the feeling I want to feel every day. This is the hard work that I’ve been putting in.’”
The junior from Fort Worth, Texas, was initially skeptical that Missouri would be the right fit after he left the Longhorns. Ten hours was a pretty long drive for a self-described “mother’s boy.”
But when Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Steckel got wind that White — a former four-star recruit whom Rivals.com ranked as the 41st-best player in the nation — was considering Missouri as a new landing spot, he went for the hard sell.
“The coach at (White’s alma mater) Dunbar called me and said, ‘Would you be interested?’” Steckel said. “And after I stopped salivating, I said, 'Yes.'”
But the road back to meaningful playing time would be a long one. Before the 2012 season, White spoke with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who told him that the year off would be an opportunity, not an exile.
“I grabbed Darius and told him, ‘You go down there and just run scout team the whole time, and you go out there and try to become a better football player,’” Pinkel said. “'It’s a choice you have. It’s simply up to you.’ He went down there and worked his tail off.”
This year, White is part of a talented — and crowded — receiving corps. He only had two catches against Murray State, but he doesn’t envision getting disgruntled by his situation as he did in Texas.
“A lot of people think me and (Texas coach) Mack Brown butted heads, but that’s not the case,” White said. “Coach Brown is a great coach. I learned a lot from him. He’s more like a father figure. Everybody thought I left Texas because of bad reasons, but I left Texas because of the fresh start.”
Many viewed White’s departure as a sign of immaturity, but Pinkel said White has now developed into a leader. The former star recruit thinks his year on the practice squad fostered an important virtue: patience.
“I really believe everything happens for a reason,” White said. “We have a talented group of wide receivers this year, and I’m blessed to be along with those guys actually playing this year. It’s all coming out good.”
White has enjoyed his ascension back to the active squad so much that he pulled Pinkel aside last week to discuss a similar plan for his younger teammates.
“Coach, I want you to do them like you did me,” White said to Pinkel. “Tell them not to take a play off because you never know when your time is coming. Keep practicing hard. Be patient. Stay humble.”