Own the East: Zamir White, already part of ‘RBU’ family, could soon add to its legacy
Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.
ATHENS — Georgia running back Zamir White tore his ACL last August right before what was supposed to be the start of his freshman season.
It was devastating news for UGA fans, Bulldogs players and White himself.
However, the path he’s traveled since then has shown what he’s made of, and for that matter, the special fraternity that exists at UGA – especially among running backs.
“He was covering a punt,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said by way of explanation last August. “It was a non-contact injury. He and Mark Webb were kind of holding each other up.”
It was a freakish series of events.
To make matters worse, White had torn his other ACL less than a year prior during his senior season of high school in Laurinburg, N.C.
White could’ve been forgiven if the injuries discouraged him. Yet a number of former Bulldogs greats stepped in to provide an emotional boost.
One of those guys was Robert Edwards, a former UGA running back who was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in 1998 and rushed for 1,115 yards in his rookie season before suffering a serious knee injury while participating in a flag football game in connection with the NFL Pro Bowl.
Edwards – who was never the same player again – is now a high school coach and seemingly a perfect mentor for White.
“I had an opportunity to talk to Zamir last year when the injury occurred,” Edwards said as a guest on DawgNation Daily. “He was a little down, but I think right now – just seeing him – [during spring] he’s excited. He’s enjoying the process.”
Edwards wasn’t the only one to reach out.
“Several players talked to him,” Smart said. “Malcolm Mitchell’s been around here. He talked to him about his issue (Mitchell tore his ACL while playing for UGA in 2013). Nick [Chubb] reached out to him and talked to him. Todd [Gurley] reached out to him. A lot of guys have talked to him.”
UGA fans probably don’t relish the fact that so many former players have joined White in having rotten injury luck, but they’re undoubtedly proud of the way the group continues to stick together and support the next generation of members of what is arguably known as “Running Back University.”
“We’ve got a great family atmosphere,” Smart said. “Those backs all care about him, and they’ve spent time with him.”
It’s not just the former running backs that feel that way.
D’Andre Swift — UGA’s leading rusher last season, and a strong contender for this year’s Heisman Trophy — should also be counted among White’s fans. During spring practice, Swift made it clear he’s eager to see White on the field.
“I’m waiting to see what my man Zamir [will] do when he comes back healthy,” Swift said. “He can’t wait to get back out there. I can’t wait to see what he can do for us.”
White’s impatience about his return has almost certainly fueled his recovery. He’s clearly motivated to be what we once was, and he’s also aided by the unfortunate experience that came from rehabbing his previous ACL injury.
“He understands,” Smart said. “That’s the one thing about once you’ve done it – once you know what you’re heading down, when before you have no idea the road you’re heading down – He’s done this once, so he knows he can top it and get after it.”
That idea is an enticing one for many fans, but what exactly would that look like?
Former UGA tight end Isaac Nauta once offered a simple assessment.
“You can see he’s got a lot of talent and upside,” Nauta said. “[He’s] a big, physical kid too, so when he gets up and rolling around really good it’s going to be really fun to see.”
“Fun to see” is a fair description, but maybe not quite so fun if you’re the defense tasked with stopping him – including his own teammates during practice apparently.
Former Bulldogs linebacker Natrez Patrick once explained how challenging it is to battle a healthy White.
“Let me tell you, the [summer] right before he got injured… when I tell you he ripped us apart [during practice]… literally so hard to tackle,” Patrick said. “No one could tackle him one-on-one… Couldn’t bring him down. He ran really tough. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do to people in the opposite color jerseys.”
Patrick’s enthusiasm after having seen White is a good match for the anticipation that exists from fans – who are still waiting for their first glimpse.
Yet when White debuts for the Bulldogs, it’s possible the happiest folks in the stadium won’t be in the stands.
The biggest cheers of all might come from the former players who’ve assisted him in his comeback, his teammates who’ve stood beside him and the coaches that have guided him.
“We love this kid,” UGA offensive coordinator James Coley said. “Very unfortunate his injuries, so just seeing him out there getting plays, running the ball, catching swing passes and picking up protections; it’s fun. It’s fun coaching him because you know how grateful he is to be back out there.”