Before the 2011 football season, anyone on the Villanova coaching staff would have told you about Norman White — he was a future professional, they would tell you. Then, what many billed as the worst thing possible, happened and White was injured before the season, forcing him to sit out and return this fall. Was it really so bad? For Villanova, it was a huge loss, but the Wildcats have had plenty of talent at receiver in recent years. For White, however, he might have been better off sitting.
"When you're a receiver, sometimes you're going to get the ball and sometimes you aren't," White told the Philadelphia Daily News. "It depends on the quarterback, the line, a lot of things. When you look good, it's not just you. Everyone has to be involved. I just focus on the team, whatever they need me to do."
Last season, with a turnstile at quarterback before the coaches seemed to settle on freshman Chris Polony, there weren't many opportunities to shine on offense. For much of the season, the offense was averaging just two scores per game, after a blowout win at Massachusetts. the Wildcats were averaging 17 points per game entering their finale. More than a few of those scores came on the ground.
"I think it works out well for Norman," coach Andy Talley told the Daily News. "With us struggling, he might not have gotten the ball a lot. This gives him a chance to really showcase himself."
Though Villanova's offense still promises to rely on the running game, when executed correctly, that scheme will open up the passing game and create opportunities for players like White.
Last year, the Wildcats played with a young and undersized offensive line and a series of inexperienced quarterbacks. Dustin Thomas, who started under center in last season's opener, is now a wide receiver. Chris Polony is competing to keep the job with redshirt freshman John Robertson this Spring, and in any case, there will be a more mature and experienced player taking snaps come September — and that is good news for White.
A receiver can't make a good throw to himself, or prevent a sack while running a route downfield. Even if there would have been ways for White to help, would NFL scouts show up for a receiver who spends more time blocking than catching passes?
No doubt, blocking is something that receivers have to do in college and in the NFL. Hines Ward, for example, was noted as a great blocker in the running game for the Steelers. That won't help Ward or anyone get to the Hall of Fame, however, and there is no statistical category to show coaches and general managers.
NFL scouts show up to see receivers who make plays, catch passes, and score points.
Even then, players who hope to be drafted need something else: Hype. How often do players appear out of nowhere to be drafted in April? Almost never. It is why big school busts happen every year. A big part of the draft selection process is hype, it makes players seem desirable and draft able. Brian Finneran never generated that hype at Villanova, despite having enough ability to start for the Atlanta Falcons prior to two career-jeopardizing knee injuries.
Ben Ijalana had that kind of attention throughout the 2010 campaign. NFLS draftniks, team officials and scouts were talking about Villanova's left tackle since before that season began. They watched him play and he rose up the draft boards because of it, ultimately being picked by the Colts in the second round.
White will hope for the same now. Instead of being surrounded by an inexperienced offense and relying on a freshman quarterback, he will have a more experienced team that has been through an offseason program to support him. There is a better chance to make those scout-pleasing highlight-reel plays in 2012 than there would have been for him in 2011.
"Quarterback is the most important position," White recognizes. "We had Chris [Whitney] for so long. When you saw how bad we actually were . . . No, it wasn't all the quarterbacks' fault. They were learning. We have to keep developing that position. I feel like the two guys we have can make this team better, both of them."
They will try to make the team better will the help of their NFL-hopeful lead receiver. Scouts will likely show up to watch Villanova on opening weekend as they take on Temple, and if White gets the opportunities he hopes for, they will show up again and again during the Fall.