To see the full interview with Kevin White, tune in to "NFL Draft Kickoff" at 1 p.m. ET on NFL Network.
SCRANTON, Pa. -- A little more than three years ago, Kevin White was so far removed from realizing his dream of playing in the NFL, he couldn't have spotted it with the Hubble telescope. The talented receiver who has a legitimate shot at being one of the first 10 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft was an insignificant speck in the football universe, a young man down to his last shot at junior college salvation, his career hanging in the balance.
In the industrial Pennsylvania city that served as the setting for "The Office," White -- like Jim Halpert, with Pam Beesly's wedding day fast approaching -- knew he had to make it happen, or else. And when he arrived at the Riverfront Sports Complex for Lackawanna College's first spring practice of 2012, he underscored that urgency by making an immediate impression.
"The first play of spring was like a scrimmage situation, and I came across the middle, caught the ball and started making people miss," White recalled earlier this month while standing on the same indoor, artificial-turf field on which the fateful sequence took place 36 months earlier. "Everybody went bananas, because they had been hearing about me: 'He's the truth, this Kevin White guy ...' But a lot of times at Lackawanna guys get hype, and they don't always live up to it.
"So I was like, 'Whatever. Watch what I do to you.' I came across the middle, made a whole bunch of people miss and took it all the way, and they went crazy. And I just wanted to bring the same momentum back into the season."
White needed it, given the way his career had stalled: Without a viable Division I offer out of Emmaus (Pa.) High School, he had come to Lackawanna and redshirted in 2010 at coach Mark Duda's insistence, setting the stage for what the receiver hoped would be a one-and-done 2011 campaign. However, when White arrived at Lackawanna in August of that year, he was told that a missed deadline on filing financial-aid forms had made him ineligible for competition, forcing him to sit out a second season.
Distraught and disgusted, White nearly surrendered his lofty ambitions. His younger brother, Ka'Raun, had taken a recruiting visit to Bloomsburg University, a Division II school 90 miles northwest of their home in suburban Allentown, and Kevin strongly considered joining him.
"I was at a low point in my life," White remembered. "I'm like, 'I'm just gonna go to Bloomsburg, be able to play with my brother ... basically, just be a regular college kid. You know, if I want to party, go ahead ... because I gave it my all and it's not working.' But somehow my brother, he couldn't go to Bloomsburg, so I kept working and went back to Lackawanna."
And that's how close White, rated by most experts as one of this draft's top two receivers -- along with Alabama's Amari Cooper -- came to dropping his pursuit of professional football glory. Think about that: For every highly regarded, blue-chip recruit who enjoys a linear path to NFL salvation, there are ample examples of star-crossed studs like White who took the road less traveled, and had to navigate daunting obstacles along the way.
This is one reason why White, who vaulted up draft boards after a stellar senior season at West Virginia and a blazing, 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, chafes at the One-Year Wonder label some skeptics have attached. To him, the fact that he has stared down three produce-or-else seasons since his senior year of high school, and has come through each time, is a sign of his resilience and ability to perform under pressure.
"One-year wonder, man -- are you crazy?," White asked incredulously while being interviewed for an NFL Network feature at his parents' home in Macungie, Pennsylvania. "Come on."
Seated next to White, his parents, Kevin Sr. and Tammy, smiled in recognition of his charged bravado.
"If they only knew," White Sr. said. "If they only knew."
Kevin Sr. and Tammy, who have seven children, moved from their crime-ridden neighborhood in Plainfield, New Jersey, to Allentown when Kevin was in middle school, a decision that was not especially popular in their household. "When we told the kids," Kevin Sr. recalled, "it didn't go well."
Eventually, Kevin Jr. adjusted to his new home. Then came another move: Seeking a better high school football program for Kevin and his younger brothers, Ka'Raun (who'll play receiver at West Virginia next fall after a strong campaign at Lackawanna) and Kyzir (a standout safety at Lackawanna who has gotten offers from numerous big-time collegiate programs as a 2016 recruit), Kevin Sr. and Tammy settled on nearby Emmaus -- and soon came to wonder if they'd made the right choice.
For most of his junior season, Kevin remained buried on the JV team, and even then he wasn't a full-time starter. "Oh yeah, it was excruciating for a while," Kevin Sr. said. "But, you know, I think it was a blessing in disguise also, because it molded him to be the man he is today. Had he got playing time, maybe his head would've went somewhere else, you know, but that kept him grounded.
"You know, a lot of schools had been telling us, 'Yeah, we want your kids to go here.' And then when you get here, a lot changed, and it just was baffling to us as parents. (We wondered), Did we sabotage our kids' careers, their dreams? 'Cause they always wanted to be NFL players."
Kevin's senior year at Emmaus was stellar, but his grades weren't good -- something he attributes partly to the transition from his former school district, whose curriculum wasn't as challenging. His academic issues caused Pitt to shy away, and he received interest from two smaller Division I programs, one of which (James Madison) wanted him to play cornerback.
He instead enrolled at Lackawanna, where nothing was handed to him, either. "It is enormously competitive," Duda explained. "We have 129 players on the roster at any given time, and 80 of those players are dressing. We create competition in everything we do -- in the classroom, in every drill."
After emerging from his two-year exile, White excelled in both areas, but even as he shone during the fall of 2012, he wasn't receiving much interest. He sent out 250 emails to college coaches, eventually receiving nibbles from Hawaii and, later, Texas Tech. Finally, he recalled, "I was on the laptop, 'cause I was doing a work study. And I saw it pop up, like, 'Hey, Kevin White, this is the wide receivers coach for West Virginia. Would love to get in contact with you -- would you please call?' "
White ultimately signed with the Mountaineers, arriving in Morgantown with two years of eligibility, only one of which he came to believe would be necessary.
"When I first arrived, I was doing whatever I wanted," White said. "I was planning on leaving early, to be honest with you. Prior to the season, this (personnel) guy from Green Bay was visiting, and he saw me practice and afterward he talked at our team meeting and said, 'If No. 11 is not the best receiver in the Big 12, I don't know who is.' So I'm like, 'Shoot, I'm killing it. I'm leaving (after this season).' I already had it in my head. But I got hurt in camp and I had three different quarterbacks and it didn't happen like I thought it would."
So White returned for his senior year and, for the third time in six seasons, embarked upon a make-or-break campaign and delivered, beginning with a breakout performance (nine catches, 143 yards, one TD) in a 33-23 defeat to Alabama at the Georgia Dome. It was the first of many occasions on which he'd be compared to Cooper, and White doesn't shy away from the competition.
"This one-year wonder crap? Come on," White said. "Tell me somebody who did it like me. Not to be cocky, but I'm so tired of hearing that. I only ran a few routes last year, and they still couldn't stop me. Alabama? No. Texas A&M? No. That whole SEC crap? I played Alabama, you know, did what I wanted. A lot of people just don't know. And, you know, some people say, 'Oh well, sometimes you can struggle with press-man (coverage).' What? I like that; come press me. Please do. 'Cause I'm gonna demolish you."
As White continued his borderline rant, there were smiles all around him -- eventually, he paused to exchange a playful fist bump with his great uncle, Gregory Eure, who suffers from Down Syndrome. Watching the two of them interact was illuminating: There is an effortless authenticity to their connection which, at the very least, suggests that Kevin is someone who understands that his struggles should be placed in their proper perspective. And even when he's dripping swag, Kevin exudes an endearing earnestness that provides a refreshing counterbalance. He comes off not as a diva, but as a young man whose jolting journey has fortified his faith in his own abilities and hardened his focus.
So yes -- White understands he'll be drafted largely on the strength of his luminous senior season, and there will be those who question his staying power. And he plans to shed the stigma like would-be tacklers at that fateful Lackawanna spring practice three years earlier, and never look back.
"It's not about the money for me," White insisted. "I want kids in Mississippi or Tennessee or wherever to look up to me and say, 'I want to be like Kevin White -- like, did you see his story? He's my idol.'
"So yeah, I'm about to realize my dream -- but the dream is only beginning. Now it's 'go' time. Now is when I really show 'em what I'm about."