Brendon White was rocking for Ohio State, pressed into duty when safety Jordan Fuller was ejected Saturday for targeting against Nebraska, and upstairs William White was cheering hard.
A four-year starting defensive back for the Buckeyes in the 1980s and a longtime NFL player, William White had delivered a message on the giant scoreboard earlier about his fight with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a progressive nerve affliction for which there is no cure. But the day otherwise, as far as he was concerned, belonged to his son and the Buckeyes.
“I’m proud, and more happy he got the chance to prove his ability to play football,” William White said of what he took in from his perch in the alumni association suite. “We will see where it leads him next week and beyond.”
It should at least lead to more playing time, considering Brendon White tied linebacker Malik Harrison for the team lead with 13 tackles, eight of them solo and two of them for loss. It was a call to duty after Fuller was tossed for what looked to be an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Kurt Rafdal at 12:26 of the second quarter.
“He said, ‘Your opportunity is coming.’ He said he had faith in me, he knows I’m ready, and he will be there for me at halftime,” White said of his conversation with Fuller before Fuller was escorted to the locker room.
In his head, White said, he already was answering another call.
“Next man up,” he said of the watchwords for the Buckeyes.
So the sophomore entered a secondary that had started the day without two regulars: safety Isaiah Pryor (shoulder stinger) and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (pulled groin). White and Amir Riep filled in the blanks while the day’s other first-time starting safety, Shaun Wade, kept an eye on Nebraska receiver JD Spielman.
White ran the alley, sometimes with the effectiveness of a man who seemed to rule the block.
“My goal was to do my job and not do too much” straying from his assignment, White said, an example being his stops in the red zone that caused Nebraska to settle for a field goal in the fourth quarter.
“Because I didn’t want to try to do too much, trying to be the superhero, and then I make a mistake,” he said. “I had a specific role, a safety role, and I wanted to do my job and trust my players that they had my back.”