EAST LANSING - Anthony White was a functional contributor as a back-up defensive tackle during his first year at Michigan State after transferring from Ft. Scott (Kan.) Community College with three years eligibility remaining last fall.
This season, the 6-foot-2, 320-pound former Battle Creek Central standout is expected to be a breakout player on the Spartan defense line at nose tackle.
"When you come out of another program it takes time to understand what we are trying to do," said defensive line coach Ted Gill earlier this spring. "He has been in our program for a year now, he understands what we are trying to do and his worked very hard become the player we know he can be. He is going to be a good player for us."
Gill has let White know that he has high expectations for him in 2011.
"He has told me that he thinks I can be a really good player for us," White explained, "but he is still coach Gill and he is going to keep on coaching and keep on pushing us to be the best. Like he always says, the best will play."
Gill is a no-nonsense position coach that demands the same attention to detail from all of his players whether they come into the program as high school All-Americans, walk-ons, or from the junior college ranks.
"Once you transfer over to a new system, coaches are going to want things done a certain way that you may not be accustomed to," explained third-year starter Jerel Worthy. "Rashad had to pick up a complex defense. We run a lot of different blitzes and fronts and things of that nature; it can take awhile to learn all of that. This spring has been really beneficial for him and he is going to come out and be really explosive in the spring game and going into the fall."
White admits that there were times during his first year in the Michigan State program that the tough love approach of the former NFL defensive line coach got under his skin.
"Last year I kind of got upset when he would yell at me and get on me for something," said White. "But I have to take that in and understand that it is coaching and he even says that it is just coaching. I feel that me studying more, him pushing me to be better and helping me out, and me asking more questions has benefitted me."
Gill pushed as hard as he did last season because he knew how good White could be if he embraced coaching and put in extra time after practice and in film study. Now that the former Battle Creek Central star has bought into what his coaches have preached since his arrival last summer, White is beginning to show why Michigan State coaches moved as quickly as they did to offer him a scholarship after they learned that he had made the commitment to put his grades in order at Ft. Scott and was available to recruit in 2010.
White has high expectations for his junior season. He has little concern about whether he starts or comes off the bench. But he does want to play like a starter when his number is called.
"I am confident that the players on the line will make plays," said White. "and when it is time for me to come in I will make plays."
White has taken all of the first-string reps at nose tackle this spring. Whether he stays atop the depth chart or moves into a back-up role depends on how fifth-year senior Kevin Pickelman bounces back from the injury that has kept him on the sidelines this spring.
Competing for playing time is nothing new Pickelman. The former Marshall star has been engaged in a fight for playing time each spring and fall he has been healthy. Two years ago, Pickelman was in a heated competition with Worthy at defensive tackle. Last fall, Pickelman and Blake Treadwell went head-to-head at nose tackle. Pickelman started eight games at nose tackle in 2010. He was the defensive player of the week for the Spartans in their decisive victory over Denard Robinson and previously unbeaten Michigan. If White pushes Pickelman at nose tackle this fall, the Spartans will have three interior defensive linemen that could start almost anywhere in the Big Ten Conference.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said earlier this spring that White and Worthy could potentially be the best tackle tandem the Spartans have had during the Dantonio era. If Pickelman wins the job, however, plenty of opportunities will remain for White to impact the game. White has worked at both defensive tackle and nose tackle this spring.
"I didn't have the perspective I have now as a nose tackle and as a defensive tackle," said White. "I am learning both positions now. I am able to play both positions and be more confident in what I am doing. Last year, I don't think I was that confident. I was just in there trying to do my best. This year I am working extra hard and planning on killing it."
White was a champion power lifter at Battle Creek Central. As a second-year player in the Spartan program, White is better able to use that natural strength to his advantage than he was last fall.
"My hands are getting a lot better," said White. "I am attacking more and I am quicker. I have put on a little bit more weight to play nose tackle, but I am thinking about trimming down just a little bit to play both positions just in case."
White's improvement is evident in scrimmages situations where he is beginning to command double teams for the first time in his career.
"The first scrimmage went good," White said. "I know that I got double-teamed a lot. That is a good thing, but this weekend for our scrimmage I am going to try and be a lot better and do as much as I can to improve myself."