By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
As a young boy growing up in Central Kentucky the Cleveland Browns were my favorite team in the NFL. I’m sure some of it had to do with proximity to Cleveland — they were the closest NFL team at the time — and some of it had to do with those simple but iconic white, brown and orange uniforms.
But a lot of it had to do with the skill of the players on the team. Some of my earliest memories of watching pro football was of the Browns playing on Sunday afternoons against other big time NFL teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. Watching quarterback Frank Ryan throw to wide receiver Paul Warfield on a deep route was a thing of beauty but as great as that was, for me, nothing beat watching NFL Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly run the ball.
He was so slippery out of the backfield. Kelly was never a power back, like his famous predecessor Jim Brown, but he could slip tackles like no player I had ever seen before. When he got the ball on a handoff from Ryan he could stop and start, change speeds and direction and kind of just glide down the field. He was also exceptional at catching the ball out of the backfield. He made the game look so easy. He could catch a dump off pass out in the flat, make a couple of guys miss and turn it into a long gain for the Browns.
That’s why when I saw this guy play for UK back in the 1990’s he immediately became one of my all-time favorites. In fact he is my fourth all-time favorite player to wear the blue and white for Kentucky.
Of course I am talking about none other than Twinsburg, Ohio’s own, running back Anthony White. Number 32. The mercurial back was recruited out of Ohio to UK in 1996 by then head coach Bill Curry’s staff but finished his career playing in Hal Mumme’s Air Raid attack.
White proved to be a perfect fit for that type offense. He had two very accurate quarterbacks, Tim Couch and Dusty Bonner, throwing to him during his career and was surrounded by a plethora of other great receivers like Craig Yeast, Kio Sanford, Quentin McCord, James Whalen and running back Derek Homer to name a few.
But being surrounded by talent wasn’t the reason White was so successful. He worked for it. As an underrated player coming into UK he had to earn his playing time and he did. His toughness and skill, whether blocking or running the ball, allowed him to become an integral part of the Hal Mumme offense that terrorized defenses in the SEC during the late 90’s. He finished his Kentucky football career rushing for 1,758 yards and 11 touchdowns on 364 carries and caught 194 passes for 1,520 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per touch and amassed 3,278 yards from scrimmage from 1996-1999.
He finished just outside the Top 10 in career rushing for UK, third in career receptions only behind Yeast and Derek Abney and fourth in career reception yardage. White is one of only a few players in NCAA history to have 1,500 or more yards rushing and receiving in a career. He was also inducted into the NFL Europe Hall of Fame in 2004.
Watching Anthony White play was like watching any other great performer in sports. He made the game look so easy. Just pitch and catch. Or delay a couple of seconds, take the draw handoff and weave up the field for enough yards to get a first down. Anthony White was a true artist at moving the chains.
But it seems like White doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for helping to resurrect the Kentucky Football program along with Couch, Yeast and a host of other players. And that’s another thing to like about Anthony White. He’s a team player.
He switched positions early on, from running back to defensive back, to help the team and then switched back when the team needed running backs. He was usually the check down receiver out of the backfield after he picked up any blitzing defensive backs or linebackers and he performed both roles equally well. All those little things add up to a player that seems “underrated” but was actually one of the stars of those Hal Mumme years.
And as for making a connection with the fans, White did it back then and is still doing it today. But now instead of slipping tackles from defensive backs and linebackers he fields equally difficult questions from Kentucky fans and poses questions to the players through his many radio and video appearances.
Anthony White was always considered one of the most versatile players to ever put on a Wildcat uniform. I also consider him one of the most talented and fun players to watch that has ever worn the blue and white and he has the statistics to prove it. That’s why he’s my fourth most favorite Kentucky Football Player of all time.