At the end of the second round, General Manager Rich McKay snapped Louisville DE Dewayne White off the Bucs' draft board
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a hot list, said General Manager Rich McKay, but it was an 'optimistic' one, even if it was only seven players long.
The Bucs' optimism proved well-founded. When Tampa Bay's first pick of the 2003 NFL Draft finally rolled around, at the 64th slot, there was at least one name still on that list: Louisville DE Dewayne White. The Bucs wasted no time in snapping up the very productive speed rusher.
"They brought me up at the Combine, and I talked to them," said White, speaking from his home in Marbury, Alabama just minutes after becoming a Buccaneer. "They told me last week that if I was still on the board with that pick, they were going to draft me. I really don't know what to say. I'm glad because they were one of my favorite teams even before they were in the Super Bowl."
Tampa Bay was determined to play to the draft's strength. White, who was thought of as a first-round talent when the 2002 college season began, was the 16th defensive lineman drafted in the first two rounds. Several players who had been projected to go in the first round had slipped into the second, simply because of the unheard-of depth at the position.
White was an all-conference pick in Conference USA as a senior in 2002, but his junior season was probably more impressive, thanks to an ankle injury last year. Nevertheless, White had three very productive seasons at Louisville, hitting double digits in sacks in each campaign.
After taking a redshirt in 1999, White started nine of 11 games in 2000 and broke out with 12 sacks, plus 52 tackles, 22 quarterback pressures and an interception. The following year, he won his conference's Defensive Player of the Year award after compiling 86 tackles, 15 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Despite the ankle injury last fall, White started all 13 games for the Cardinals and put up 60 tackles, 10.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery.
"For anyone who has ever had a high-ankle sprain, you know you can't move laterally," said White. "I could move straight forward but laterally, which is left and right in football, I couldn't do that at all. It was hard toward the end. I was playing with it, and it looked like I was heavy because it did not have a brace or anything so people didn't know. I didn't produce as much as I did the year before or even my freshman year."
In 2002, White was the winner of Disney's Wide World of Sports Spirit Award, which tabs college football's most inspirational student-athlete. He was so chosen because of his abilities to overcome a string of very difficult circumstances, including the death of both of his parents and the loss of his family's home in a pair of fires. Because his father died when he was just two months old, White had extra responsibilities to bear as a child, working to buy his own clothing and food, and even his own car at the age of 15.
"At times in anybody's life you feel like, 'Man, why is this happening to me?'" said White. "It was just a drive inside of me that I knew if I kept working hard, good things are going to eventually come. If you keep on staying in the weight room and doing things right, good things are going to come to you. That's what I believe in. Even when bad times come, keep working toward it; It is going to happen. That's what I believe, and it happened to me."
White's persistence paid off in the perfect beginning to his NFL career.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "They have the best defensive line in the National Football League, and just to be able to go and play with those guys and learn from the veterans will be a tremendous experience for me. I feel blessed that they picked me up."