White takes Conerly Trophy

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2010

JACKSON — Making tackles in the Southeastern Conference proved to have more sway with voters than a talented field of quarterbacks as Mississippi State linebacker Chris White of Vancleave claimed the Conerly Trophy Tuesday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

White, who is fourth in the SEC in tackles with 105, thanked family, coaches and teammates after winning the award. White beat out fellow finalists Casey Therriault of Jackson State and Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis.

“This is something I’m going to cherish the rest of my life,” White said about the award, given to Mississippi’s top college football player. “I’d like to thank my high school coach at Vancleave, Jim Bloomfield, and coach Steve Campbell at Mississippi Gulf Coast. Coach Campbell let me have two great years. I have to thank Coach Dan Mullen for letting me extend my career two more years at Mississippi State and for making us champions. I also have to thank (defensive coordinator) Manny Diaz for putting me in a defense that allowed me to make plays and my teammates, for without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

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Mississippi State finished its regular season at 8-4 and awaits a bowl bid following Saturday’s SEC championship game in Atlanta. Atlanta is the likely destination for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl but Mullen said that’s not final yet. Mullen also shot down several internet rumors that he is being courted by the University of Miami for its head coaching vacancy after the dismissal of Randy Shannon.

“The perception is that any job that comes open, my name surfaces, but I’m very happy at Mississippi State,” Mullen said.

Mullen was also happy for White.

“He was a kid that was already coming to Mississippi State before I got there,” Mullen told the Conerly Trophy audience. “I did go down to Vancleave to see him and he showed me the buck he had killed that day. I met his pretty girlfriend, who was a cheerleader at Gulf Coast and who also was coming to Mississippi State. Then, she showed me the buck that she had killed. That was quite a shock for someone from New England.”

Mullen said it took White a season to get adjusted to moving from junior college to the SEC.

“He needed to get adjusted to the speed of the SEC,” Mullen said. “Then when Manny (Diaz) brought in his system. he just thrived in it.”

White said that Diaz’s system, which moved him to inside linebacker, allowed him to make plays.

“It was just a good fit for me,” White said of Diaz’s scheme, in which White had 151⁄2 tackles for loss. “He wants you to make plays.”

One of the treats for the 10 honored invitees were video messages from four former Conerly winners. From the New York Giants, there was Eli Manning and Michael Bole and from the San Francisco 49ers, there was Anthony Dixon and Patrick Willis. White is the first defensive player to win the award since Willis won after his senior year at Ole Miss. White is also the fourth Mississippi State product to win and the second in a row following Dixon, who led the SEC in rushing last year.

“Hopefully, I can get my chance to play at that level,” White said. Besides the Bulldogs’ bowl game. White will play in the Texas vs. the Nation College All-Star game.

Therriault was the nation’s leading passer in the Football Championship Sub-Division through 10 games. After spending nearly six months in prison after a incident resulting in a man’s death in a bar fight, Jackson State was one of a few schools in the nation to give him a chance. He turned that opportunity into 3,392 passing yards and 31 touchdowns before suffering a broken collarbone in Jackson State’s last game against Alcorn State.

“Obviously, I’m going to be very appreciative of the chance Jackson State gave me,” Therriault said. “To see Eli (Manning) up there, that’s my generation. Hopefully, I can join them one day. Just to be considered for this award after the struggles I had, there are no words to describe it.”

Southern Miss quarterback Davis led the Golden Eagles to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Golden Eagles will play a team from the Big East,

“Austin Davis is a big reason why we’re making a third straight bowl game,” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. “He overcame a season-ending injury last year to come back and have an excellent season for us.”

Davis, a Meridian native, said being a finalist for the Conerly was a reflection of the USM’s success this season.

“We went 8-4 and we were in every game, but one. We had two close losses by a single play. It shows the work we did throughout the year,” Davis said.