EVANSTON, Ill. — From the moment he stepped on the Northwestern practice field this spring, Dwight White has been fighting to win the open cornerback spot in Northwestern’s starting lineup. On Wednesday, he was engaged in a more literal definition of the term, a brief on-field scrum with junior receiver Tony Jones that sparked amidst the competitive throes of a two-hour long workout.
The fight was a product of the intense practice environment Northwestern players and coaches always rave about, and nothing else. “It’s real competitive out there. I’m a new guy out there,” White said. “We’re all just competing. It’s not a big deal.” Forgetting about that minor scrum will be easy. The macro battle he continues to wage for playing time in the secondary will rage on throughout the season.
That fight is a little less conspicuous – and about 500 percent more important – but those who know White best will assure you: he’s been fighting all training camp, and won’t let up any time soon.
“Dwight’s done a great job of fighting,” said junior Ibraheim Campbell, a preseason All-Big Ten safety and the undisputed leader of Northwestern’s secondary. “He has to earn his position.”
At the moment, White appears to have fallen behind junior Daniel Jones in the competition for the No. 2 CB spot. Jones has lined up with the 1’s more often than not, while White has jumped in sporadically, but otherwise spent most of his time working with the second unit.
The biggest difference between the two is experience. Jones started seven games last season and was inserted into the starting lineup toward the end of his redshirt freshman season when senior Jordan Mabin suffered a season-ending injury.
On the opposite end of the playing time spectrum, White has zero college football experience to speak of. He at least talks like he’s ready.
“In spring ball, I had to figure out what I was doing individually,” White said. “Now I’m just figuring out how to work with my teammates, but It’s exciting. I’m confident in my abilities.”
The value of experience at cornerback – a position where players need repetition and trial-by-error game action to reach their full potential – cannot be overstated. White may be more athletic than Jones – Campbell says he’s a “great athlete, a great playmaker” – but he isn’t quite as polished tactically, nor does he have what Campbell calls Jones’ superb “intelligence” and “awareness.”
That hasn’t stopped White from making the competition heated. One esteemed Big Ten writer observing Northwestern’s practice Tuesday said he hoped White would earn the starting job. That prospect looks less and less likely as the Wildcats approach the season-opener against Cal next Saturday, but rest assured, White won’t take his foot off the gas.
“He’s a guy that’s young, so you’re going to go through every experience.” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s poised and ready to get out on the field.”
By the end of the season, there’s a strong chance White’s ongoing fight will have yielded significant playing time dividends.