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Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee (L) will have his hands full trying to decide where Zamir White (3) fits into a crowded backfield rotation.

Own the East: Georgia’s Zamir White has been overcoming adversity from the start

Chip Towers

GEORGIA’S OWN #11: RB ZAMIR WHITE

ATHENS — The term “freak” probably is overused in sports. But with regard to Georgia’s Zamir White, it suits him perfectly. And that goes beyond the Adonis-like body and size/speed combination White showed up with to UGA.

No, White is a bit of a medical freak. It goes back to the very beginning with him.

As detailed by DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell during White’s recruitment, doctors recommended White’s mother abort her pregnancy due to severe underdevelopment around the end of the first trimester. When he was born, the first 100 days of White’s life were spent in intensive care.

As a newborn, White’s tiny body endured multiple surgeries. They had to address issues such as cleft lip, cleft jaw, kidney function, cysts, and other minor and major malformations. Initially, he was given 10 days to live.

From his first breath, White was having to overcome adversity. But as all the world can see he turned out considerably better than “just fine.”

“I’m really just happy he’s here,” said his mother, Shanee White. “It is not all this football stuff.”

Zamir White has not missed a preseason snap despite wearing a significant metal brace to protect the right knee that required ACL surgery last December. (Steven Colquitt/UGA)

 

 

 

With that context, it’s easy to understand why White wasn’t about to let a little ol’ torn ACL slow down his development as the next great back to sign with Georgia. And he hasn’t.

To cut to the chase, White will be available to play in the Bulldogs’ season opener against Austin Peay on Sept. 1. And word is, he would’ve been ready if that game had been played on August 1 as well.

That’s when Georgia opened preseason camp, and White has been “full go” since the first whistle. The only thing limiting him is a somewhat cumbersome metal brace on his right knee. He longs for the day in the not-too-distant future when he’ll be able to play without it.

“He could take the knee brace off and practice, but it’s precautionary,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of the preseason. “It’s a little rigid and it’s not comfortable for him. He’s not out there feeling like he’s his old self yet. … But he is cleared and he’s safe to practice. He just doesn’t like having that knee brace on.”

That he’s already working out full speed with the Bulldogs does not make White a medical miracle. His timeline to recovery from a simple tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is not unusual in modern-day sports medicine. But White was fortunate to have been able to enlist Georgia in his treatment and recovery.

White actually incurred the knee injury in a playoff game with Scotland High School on the night of Nov. 17 last fall. It came on his last carry in the fourth of quarter of game his team led by 25 points. White came out of the game knowing he’d taken a helmet blow to the knee, but didn’t realize he was seriously injured.

White remained on the sideline the rest of the game and signed autographs for fans for at least a half-hour afterward in 30-degree temperatures. Then he went home and crashed inn advance of an early wake-up call for an unofficial recruiting trip to UGA.

It was only after walking around Sanford Stadium and up and down the stands that White realized he might have more than a bruise. He mentioned it to Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, and a routine examination on the spot revealed that a ligament indeed was torn.

A month later, surgery was performed by UGA doctors in Athens. As an early enrollee with the Bulldogs, White’s rehabilitation began in earnest upon his arrival on campus.

White’s progress was evident in April during Georgia’s spring practices. By the end of them, he was already running full speed through position drills with the rest of the backs. He was held out of contact and any competitive scrimmage situations, but otherwise was getting in work and learning the offense.

Fast forward to the summer, and a video was released by UGA of White high-kicking and hitting and moving in a Taekwondo workout in the Payne Athletic Center. It was on Aug. 2, the first official day of Georgia’s preseason camp, that Smart pronounced White “full go.”

“I don’t know in this day and age you would say (White’s recovery) was quick,” Smart said. “I think he’s on schedule or a little ahead of schedule. He got injured last year in football season. It’s not a miracle he’s back going. He is pretty special when it comes to rehab, buying in, doing wrestling, doing karate. He does all these extra things like Nick (Chubb) did. That part — his effort and all the work — is incredible.”

As a result, Georgia fans will get to see what all the fuss is about. And with White, there has been a lot of fuss made.

That’s what happens when one is a consensus 5-star prospect and the No. 1-rated running back in high school. His numbers at his little school in Laurinburg, N.C., were ungodly — 2,086 yards and 34 TDs in 11 games as a senior and a gaudy per-carry average of 14.1 yards.

White regularly draws comparisons to a couple of other great Georgia backs from small-town North Carolina, Todd Gurley of Tarboro and Tim Worley of Lumberton. Both of them wowed the masses with the Bulldogs and earned riches in the NFL.

The thinking is that this young man who has come to be called “Zeus” is on a similar path. First, White will have to get through one of the most intense running back competitions in Georgia history, which is saying something. Sophomore D’Andre Swift is the heir apparent to succeed the last greats, Chubb and Sony Michel. Talented juniors Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien have been patiently biding their time and awaiting their opportunities. And fellow freshman signee James Cook, brother of Dalvin, has turned heads with his quickness and broken-field running.

But White is thought to have all the characteristics Georgia looks for in great backs. He has the size and strength to punch the football into the A and B gaps of the defense while also possessing the speed get around the end and outrun defensive backs to paydirt.

That script has yet to be written. But optimism abounds. The early chapters in the Book of Zeus certainly have been incredible, especially that first one.

If White plays the way coaches and recruiting analysts expect, he’ll be another reason Georgia “Owns the East.”