Zamir White has suffered two consecutive season-ending knee injuries. The back-to-back setbacks have cost him a state championship finale to his prep career and a true freshman season in Athens.
Will he ever carry the football like he used to?
A key source feels he can do just that. As Scotland County coach Richard Bailey shared his view of White’s recovery, he carried a very optimistic tone about his former tailback.
There was a dark time for White with the injury, but Bailey now feels White is in a great place.
“Look at medically what they have been able to do,” his high school coach said. “You look at Todd Gurley and Sony Michel and even people like Adrian Peterson or even Thomas Davis for the Panthers. He tore his [ACL] like four times and that cat finally retired after a 16-year career in the NFL. It’s just amazing what these guys can do.”
Bailey sees a bright side in that these were (only) ACL tears.
Yes, that is an interesting sentence.
The rationale with that is this wasn’t a total knee construction that involved a patella tear or the medial collateral or lateral collateral or posterior cruciate ligaments.
“It sounds bad to say this but he really just tore his ACL,” Bailey said. “He didn’t tear anything else. A lot of times you tear your ACL you will tear your MCL and your meniscus and everything else.”
Bailey compared this injury to what happened to his starting quarterback at Scotland. That young man tore his ACL, his PCL and essentially everything around the joint.
“He’s got like the old six-inch scar across his knee,” Bailey said. “Whereas Zamir has just had his done arthroscopically. He doesn’t have all that. I really feel like the chances of recovering from what he has had is 100 percent. He is going to be back and as good as ever if not better than ever. Especially with what he has added to his body in the weight room since he has been at Georgia.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind he is going to come back and be better than he ever was or as good which is still phenomenal.”
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) October 7, 2017
The Zamir White backstory heading into the 2019 season
White saw his senior season in high school halted. At the time, he was the nation’s No. 1 RB prospect and seen as a once-every-five-years (at least) talent at that position.
The injury wasn’t severe. He walked off the field on his own after signing about 15 minutes of autographs. There was no limp.
White didn’t even know he suffered the injury until he had it checked during an unofficial visit to UGA. He bounced back quickly from that setback. The 6-foot-1 speedster worked himself in position to play early in his freshman year at UGA.
That was until he suffered a new season-ending injury to his other knee in fall camp. That came while he was working in practice on the punt coverage team.
That news raised eyebrows, but White was doing the same things that other great backs like Sony Michel did while they worked their way up the depth chart at Georgia.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said that Derrick Henry also took his talents to the punt team early in his time at Alabama, too.
This will not be the knee injury Nick Chubb recovered from. It was the same ACL tear (albeit to each knee) that Todd Gurley bounced back from to become a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2015.
Director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson has a strong resume of restoring NFL prospects to optimum ability after knee injuries. He has also been the “watchdawg” over White’s care.
The opinion here is that White even at 90 percent of the ability he flashed in high school would clearly place him among the best backs in college football. But those are just a reporter’s words.
Why does a man who has seen him carry a ball more times than his momma have so much faith in him?
“He’s the most driven player I’ve ever had,” Bailey said. “I’ve only had one or two even in his neighborhood as far as work ethic and just being committed to being great. He is a once-in-a-lifetimer guy here. People don’t realize that about him. I’ve been doing this 29 years. I’ve coached or been around thousands of players. They don’t make them like Zamir White. They just don’t.”
Bailey framed those words with the perspective of a coach who has sent at least 30 of his players off to major college football.
“As long as he can stay healthy, he is going to play on Sunday,” he said. “He is going to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL.”
In some ways, he is a fan now, too. Bailey looks to find his clues and affirmations from social media videos. Or he will seek a progress report when he gets in touch with the Georgia staff.
“I haven’t heard anything from [running backs coach] Dell McGee or anything from the people at Georgia or seen anything on video that doesn’t look like to me he is going to come back and be every bit as good as he ever was,” Bailey said.
— Overtime (@overtime) August 26, 2017
Zamir White has a history with tall hurdles
DawgNation has covered how White has been able to overcome vast obstacles. He wasn’t expected to survive the early months in his mother’s womb. The former 5-star RB also spent the first 100 days of his life in neonatal intensive care.
White would endure several surgeries as a youth but still grew into a 5-star recruit. He was clocking 10.5-second times in the 100 meters competing in high school track.
Bailey said he is clearly one of the most famous people in town and definitely the most well-known college student.
“I just hope that sometimes it is not a burden to him,” he said. “He does have a lot of people pulling for him. I know that sometimes that can come across as you have got a lot of opportunities to let people down. I know he can’t control some of the things that have happened to him. I just hope he understands we love him regardless of whether he ever plays football again or not.”
He scored a touchdown on his first Pop Warner carry. White repeated that on his first high school carry. Those are moments that lead a community to give a nickname like “Zeus” to a running back.
“But he also has a lot of people that are loving him and supporting him and want to see him do great things,” Bailey said. “This community really cares about him. For myself and my family, I don’t care if he ever totes a football again as long as he is happy and gets his degree.”
“But I just know that if there was a person that was ever meant to carry a football and do great things, then it is Zamir. He deserves it because of the type of person he is.”
— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) June 10, 2016
A dark time early in this rehab for Zamir White
When it first came time to approach the second season of rehab, it was not easy.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Bailey starts off. “When he first tore his ACL in August, he went “Zero Dark Thirty” there for a few weeks. I couldn’t even get in touch with him. I could tell he was really struggling mentally with it. Went through some depression I am sure. I talked to [UGA running backs coach] Dell McGee about it and obviously, he was struggling a little bit.”
His former coach reasoned the whole “why me?” and “woe is me” stuff might have been there. If it was, then it was natural.
“But I do think it helps he has a lot of people behind him,” Bailey said. “A lot of people cheering for him and supporting him. Hopefully, I’m one of those people.”
The Scotland coach is not on the phone playing hype man with his former star. A lot of the insight he has on White will come from several sources, including the staff at Georgia.
“Once he really got back rehabbing and had the surgery done again I think he once again just knew it was going to get better and it was going to be alright,” he said. “His mindset now, man, the last couple of times I have seen him he has been very positive and really focused on the upcoming season. I know he’s worked really really hard to get himself back.”
Nation’s No. 1 …. Fullback? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/YjT9s1N26B
— Jeff Sentell (@jeffsentell) November 18, 2017
What the 2019 model Zamir White might look like
He’s always been an athletic marvel. White was able to bench press 215 pounds on his first attempt as a freshman in 2014.
— Zamir White (@zeus1_34) February 19, 2019
The above tweet is a capture of a recent UGA football video highlighting winter workouts. It looks to be the 2019 model Zamir White.
Reports are circulating that White is around 235 pounds. That’s 15 pounds north of his high school weight. He looks a lot thicker up top but the eyeball test still shows better definition than an OLED 4K TV.
“He’s got an incredible combination of size and speed,” Bailey said. “I don’t know if he is quite 240 but he was 220 or 215 when he was here [at Scotland] and even I’ve noticed he’s probably put on 10 or 15 pounds. So even at that, he would be 230 or 235. You’re talking about somebody who was a 10.5 electronic 100 meters guy.”
“It is not like when you come back from these knee injuries these days and somehow you slow down. He’s going to be extremely fast and explosive at 230 or more pounds. That’s scary. That’s scary to think of that coming at you and he’s also got just enough wiggle and one of the best stiff arms I’ve ever been around.”
Bailey brought up the story of that 60-yard run in high school that saw White stiff-armed three would-be tacklers to the ground. White was able to score a touchdown on approximately 23 percent of his carries his senior season at Scotland County.
He scored a rushing touchdown in a playoff game on a third-and-34 situation in high school.
“He’s got an incredible size and speed combination that you just don’t see outside of the Herschel Walkers of the world,” Bailey said.
That Scotland record book reflects 738 carries for 7,169 yards. That’s an average of 9.7 yards per attempt. He averaged 152 yards per high school game and finished with 127 all-purpose career touchdowns.
This is a 3rd-and-20. First down converted to the all-purpose back. White hops up every play like former UGA great Knowshon Moreno. pic.twitter.com/V0eSwDC7tW
— Jeff Sentell (@jeffsentell) November 18, 2017
The next steps for Zamir White
The cynics need to have their moments in this narrative. The degree of difficulty here will still be two season-ending knee injuries.
“You just want it to have a happy ending,” he said. “Do you know what I mean? It is going to be emotional for my family to watch him play. I will probably shed a tear or two the first time he scores a touchdown or does something great at Georgia.”
There are still a few “ifs” and “hopefullys” and “we pray” and “Lord willings” dotting Bailey’s words. He is a devout Christian. That also seems natural for him to do so.
“You don’t understand why things happen,” he said. “Sometimes it is like even for me. I mean I’m a pretty devout Christian. I wonder why things like this happen. Why does Zamir have to go through this? I always say to myself ‘God has got a plan’ and Zamir is going to be a better person for going through this adversity and it is going to help him in the long run. But boy, do I want him to do great things at Georgia.”
“Just for him. His psyche. Just proof and affirmation that all of this hard work and everything he has been through has a reason behind it. I want him to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong who are doubting him that he can’t come back from this. I don’t doubt him for a minute.”
“Let’s hope the Lord lets that happen.”
He finds the right words with all of that. But that eloquence will not change the fact that White hasn’t had a meaningful carry in a game since November of 2017.
With that, Bailey sees yet another positive.
“I try to tell him that God has a reason for everything,” his former coach said. “Maybe God wanted that other knee to heal up over a year before he went back. He’s going to have more time [to recover] on both of these legs than he had heading into last season with the one leg. If that makes sense to you. He’s going to have literally almost a year from the one he tore and then coming up on two years from the one he tore when he was in high school.”
“Both of those injuries should be even more fully recovered as long as he can go through the spring and summer with nothing else happening. I don’t expect anything to happen and I will be obviously praying that nothing does.”
“I think his mindset right now is that he’s focused and feeling really good about where he is at right now.”
TD! Zamir White. He actually seems to have a bigger bounce in his step when his teammates make a big play. Scotland County 21, Seventy-First 7. 6:06 1Q. pic.twitter.com/HHwzOwUwWS
— Jeff Sentell (@jeffsentell) November 18, 2017
When it comes time for a horse to run again
Bailey is a unique benefactor to White. This is not one of those “Friday Night Lights” stories where the small high school coach runs his thoroughbred into the ground for fickle trophies.
White was reined in once he established himself as an elite recruit with 59 touchdowns through his first two seasons. “Zeus” scored 41 times in 2015 but only averaged 16 carries per game as a junior.
To his credit, Bailey knew he was there to serve’s White career. Not his coaching career.
His play calls left a lot of carries on the table for Saturdays and Sundays.
White was fed an average of 14 rushing attempts per game his senior year. He still amassed 2,062 yards in 11 games. It meant 14.3 yards per attempt.
The Georgia redshirt freshman is a fan of horses. He is familiar with them, rides them and is even a horse owner.
White even gave one that familiar “Zeus” name.
This player, by every scouting estimation, is also a rare stallion on the field. It brings to mind the post-class recruiting evaluation by the running backs coach at Ohio State. It was published via an open records request by an outlet which covers that beat.
The Ohio State football program saw White as the one that got away. The Buckeyes even put it down on paper.
“He was born to do this,” Bailey said. “You want to see him doing it. You feel cheated if you don’t. It is like Bo Jackson getting hurt in the NFL. Not getting to see him finish out his NFL career. I feel cheated because I grew up in that generation and I feel kind of cheated I didn’t see him fulfill his potential as an NFL player. I just hope we get to see him fulfill his potential. Because his potential is through the roof.”
It is a simple equation for Bailey: If White he is healthy, he will do both Athens and Scotland proud.
“If he’s healthy, he is at the right place to run the football,” Bailey said. “He is at the right school that is committed to running backs being successful. They definitely have a great reputation for doing that.”
“If he’s healthy, there is zero chance he is not a phenomenal running back at the University of Georgia. Georgia fans are in for a treat if Zamir is healthy. I don’t see any way that he wouldn’t. It is going to all add up if he is healthy.”
This pre-game entrance. 👌 pic.twitter.com/tFHNBs320b
— Jeff Sentell (@jeffsentell) November 18, 2017