Making the transition into the NFL from the collegiate ranks is no easy task. Football is now your full-time job and all the real-world stuff you were sheltered from in college is your responsibility. Even outside of football, it means getting a place to live, setting up utilities, unpacking, navigating your neighborhood in a brand-new city.
Then you come to work.
Work work. Not homework, although you have that too between watching film and diving in your playbook. You learn an entirely new scheme with guys that are mostly strangers but at the same time are your brothers. You navigate the veteran-rookie dynamic and try to give and get respect in just the right way that makes your teammates feel more like the latter brothers than strangers. Then you actually have to perform and show that you understand these concepts you’ve had just a short time to digest. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin – much less a rookie first-round pick who is now being called on to lead the Bucs defense from the middle linebacker position.
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The player I just described is LSU product Devin White and the 21-year-old will have to shoulder a lot of on-field responsibility right away in the Bucs’ new defense. He says he welcomes it. He says there’s nothing too big for him. And that is probably true. You don’t get touted as the best linebacker in the draft and one of the best players to ever play at LSU – one of the nation’s football powerhouses – because you shied away from responsibility and leadership.
But even leaders need mentors and ‘OGs’ to help them along the way. Lucky for White, one of his mentors is already here and has been a tremendous help to the first-year player as he’s attempted to transition into the NFL life since being drafted in April.
White remembers watching Bucs’ linebacker Kevin Minter, who is in his second season with the team, while he was at LSU himself. He recalls Minter’s 20-tackle performance against the University of Florida when Minter was a junior and says he just always looked up to him. It wasn’t from afar, either. When White got to LSU and Minter was already in the NFL, White kept in contact with the Tiger alum.
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“I would always text him throughout my career while he was in the NFL, so we had a close relationship,” White said of Minter. “When I got drafted and I knew he was here, I was like ok that’s going to help me have a smoother transition.”
That kind of familiarity can’t go overstated. There were a ton of things that make the White-Bucs pairing seem almost serendipitous. Like it was a long-foregone conclusion that just needed time to come to fruition. For instance, White got stuck in Tampa an extra night on his pre-draft visit, which he said he thinks was a sign meant to tell him he was already home and didn’t need to take another visit. There’s also the memory of his late brother running around the house in a Bucs Ronde Barber jersey and the love White had for the Bucs because of it. Having a guy that had been a mentor to White already in the building was just icing on the cake.
Minter was equally excited to see White come to Tampa. The first thing the seventh-year player said when White came in?
”Kind of just, play his game,” Minter said. “They drafted you at the spot for a reason. You’re talented. You’re talented enough to be here. You have all the tools, just keep being the type of kid you are, and you always have been since freshman year, and you’ll be alright, you know what I’m saying?”
“Anything I needed to know the first day I got in here, he was like if you need any help, just ask me,” White recalled. “Don’t feel embarrassed, don’t feel like you’re supposed to know it all, you just got here.”
Minter doesn’t have any concerns about White making the transition and taking on all the responsibility the player wearing the ‘green dot’ has to manage. The green dot signifies the defensive signal caller, the dot itself meaning his helmet is equipped with a line directly to the coaches. Minter acknowledges that he thinks White is more mature to begin with than he was as a rookie. Plus, coming from a big-time program like LSU where he was used to playing in front of over 100,000 fans inside Death Valley helps as well as anything else. Heck, he’ll only be playing in front of about 60,000 inside Raymond James Stadium.
Minter also laments that it’s a little weird to be looked at as the veteran guy, now.
“I feel like yesterday I just got in the league,” Minter laughs. “Hearing guys like [White] call me OG or ‘old guy,’ you hear the jokes. A lot of jokes I used to give [outside linebackers coach Larry] Foote back in the day, you know? It’s just funny because it all comes full circle.”
Minter and Foote (and Deone Bucannon) were all teammates when Minter first entered the league with the Arizona Cardinals under Head Coach Bruce Arians. That was its own kind of reunion when the team signed Bucannon in free agency and Arians hired Foote to be the outside linebackers coach here in Tampa. Minter had every old joke in the book for Foote back when he was a rookie.
“I was on Foote heavy,” Minter laughs again. “No one was on Foote heavier than I was.”
At the same time, Minter says Foote had always kind of been a coach, even when they all played together. Anytime Minter had a question, he’d go to Foote. The only difference now is that Foote actually has the title.
Minter feels as though he has a similar relationship with White, to an extent of course. He was hesitant to put himself in the same position he viewed, and still views, Coach Foote. Each relationship is different and Minter said he knows his focus has to remain on being a contributor himself to the team. But he has White’s back at the same time.
“I’m not even going to attempt to be on Foote’s level as far as where he was when he was mentoring me,” Minter said of White. “But at the same time, I do feel like I am trying to help out the kid as much as I can because, you know him, a kid like that you’ll do anything for. He’s a sponge and just a good kid overall. Anything he needs, he already knows who he can call.”
“I don’t try to lean on him so much because I know I have to be my own man, I have to get it for myself,” White said. “But I know if I start stumbling, he’s going to be right there to catch me.”