Saturday night’s game at no. 3 Ohio State doesn’t just mark the return for head coach Greg Schiano, who served as defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes from 2016-2018. Starting safety Brendon White returns to Columbus after transferring to Rutgers this past offseason. He spent the previous three seasons at the Big Ten powerhouse, two of which with Schiano. The OSU campus is located just 17 miles away from White’s hometown of Powell, Ohio.
The former four-star recruit and second best prospect in the state of Ohio in the 2017 class had an up and down career with the Buckeyes. As a true freshman in limited action during the 2017 season, White’s lone tackle came against Rutgers. In the last two seasons, White registered 64 tackles, including 6 for a loss, one sack and three pass break-ups, as well as an interception in 23 games. However, it was 2018 when White’s high water mark came late in Schiano’s last season with the Buckeyes. He had five or more tackles in the final five games of that season. It culminated with White earning Defensive Most Valuable Player honors against Washington in the Rose Bowl, producing an eight tackle performance that included two tackles for a loss and an interception on a two-point conversion pass. He also had an interception he returned for 49 yards in the Big Game against Michigan in the regular season finale.
Despite a strong end to his sophomore season, White played far less the following season after Schiano’s departure from Ohio State. He only played in 10 games and registered 19 tackles.
White decided to consider his options and ultimately chose to reunite with his former defensive coordinator in Schiano. His impact on the field has already been felt, as White has recorded 17 total tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery in the Scarlet Knights’ first two games. The two takeaways came in the season opening win over Michigan State when the defense has seven total and White had a dozen tackles in the loss to Indiana. He is a major reason the defense has looked improved so far this season.
In speaking with the media this week, White was asked about being back at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. He said, “I am excited to go back home. I was born and raised there. I am excited to be able to get back there and play in the shoe again. Just focused on the game plan and watching film, so I am prepared and play my best on Saturday when it comes.”
Schiano was asked about the impact White has had on this team and he explained why White has been such a great fit at Rutgers. “I think Brendon is doing a tremendous job. From the day he got here, he was a leader on our football team,” he said. Schiano continued, “He works extremely hard. He is extremely focused on being the best player that he can be and helping others around him be that. And then he has played well on the field the last two weeks. I had a great relationship with him at Ohio State. At the beginning, it was a lot of tough love. He really came on the latter part of the 2018 season. When things didn’t work out there for him, I certainly was pleased that he chose to come join us. He is an integral part of our program.”
White commented on the importance of his relationship with Schiano by saying “When I first got to Ohio State, I was playing receiver. Then, right before fall camp, they switched me to safety. The biggest thing with me and coach Schiano was, yeah we butted heads a lot, but he got me out of my comfort zone,” he said.
White continued, “He allowed me, showed me and taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Ever since then, I feel like our relationship has grown even more and now I looked at him as more than a coach. He is kind of like a father figure to me. He is someone I can talk to outside of football. When you have a person, who is not only a phenomenal coach but he is someone you can talk to besides football, that is someone I definitely want to follow.”
On whether their established relationship has helped in his transition at Rutgers, White confirmed saying, “It helps a lot. Being able to be with coach Schiano early and be with him now, I can kind of learn what he wants and what he wants to see out of his players,” White said. “Being able to have a jumpstart on that was really cool.”
As for how White has felt since joining the program, he confirmed things are off to a good start with his teammates. He said, “They had open arms and they let me come right in like I was family. So that was the biggest key for me I think; them allowing me to come in with open arms. But at the end of the day, it’s football. …I came here to play football and that was the biggest thing.”
On what White learned after several seasons at Ohio State, he elaborated by stating, “I learned a lot about the game of football, I learned what it means to win.” He continued, “I was blessed to be a part of that rivalry, playing Michigan. So there’s a bunch of things that I took from Ohio State that I’ll definitely nurture and keep with me and stuff like that, but I’m glad I’m a Scarlet Knight now.”
As for the tough task for Rutgers ahead on Saturday in the Horseshoe against the highly rated Buckeyes. “We’re gonna keep going and fight to win and any chance we can get to win, we’re gonna try to do that,” White said. “So I think that winning mentality and that strive to want to be great here is starting to come along, and guys are starting to grasp it and understand it more.”
Even if the score isn’t particularly close on Saturday, hopefully Rutgers will be competitive for an extended stretch of time, something they haven’t been in this matchup since they began playing in 2014. This time they should be well prepared with Schiano, who is well versed on what Ohio State wants to do from a game plan perspective.
White has the opportunity to not only have a big game himself, but he could help his own defense in his matchup due to his understanding the tendencies of Buckeye players. Regardless, his return home should be an emotional one and for Rutgers, let’s hope White leaves a memorable performance behind on the trip back to Piscataway.