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WVU's White playing like a man on fire

WVU receiver Kevin White has surpassed 100 receiving yards in all three games this season. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

The last time he faced Oklahoma, West Virginia wideout Kevin White had the ball with a chance to give the Mountaineers a late lead. But as he attempted to slide past a pair of Sooner defenders, Oklahoma safety Quentin Hayes jarred the ball loose, thwarting what would be West Virginia's final chance to win in Norman.

"When I think about Oklahoma, all I think about is that fumble," White said. "We could have won that game.

"That play put a fire in me."

Saturday, White will get another crack against the fourth-ranked Sooners in a showdown that could hold major Big 12 championship implications. Everyone expected Oklahoma to be in the hunt. But thanks in large part to White playing like a man on fire, the unheralded Mountaineers have emerged as a dark-horse contender after a surprisingly strong start to the season.

Through three games, White ranks second in the country with 460 receiving yards and 32 receptions.

"He's a great player and he is making big plays in every game," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of White. "He's physical and is tough going up after the football. He's got a great physical presence -- just a great football player."

Stoops isn't the only one to take notice.

After reeling in 143 receiving yards and a touchdown in a narrow 33-23 loss to second-ranked Alabama in the opener, White boarded the bus outside the Georgia Dome and finally got around to checking his phone. The Twitter mentions came pouring in, but one specific tweet prompted him to look twice:

"That was really cool," White said. "I was pretty shocked. Larry is a guy I watch a lot, a guy I try to mimic my game after."

White has been putting together quite the imitation.

Besides sharing Fitzgerald's No. 11 jersey number, his hairstyle dreads and his physical 6-foot-3 body type, White has been destroying opposing cornerbacks downfield the way Fitzgerald has been for years.

White has already hauled in 17 receptions of 10 yards or more, a year after leading the Mountaineers with only 21 such catches during his entire first season at West Virginia.

"I don't think any cornerback not his size can guard him," said White's West Virginia cohort at receiver, Mario Alford. "He's unbelievable the way he uses his body and his athletic ability to block out smaller cornerbacks to go up and attack the ball.

"He's got a ton of confidence right now."

That confidence, however, wasn't always there.

White didn't have the grades or the tape to play FBS football coming out Emmaus High School in Pennsylvania, which prompted him to enroll at Lackawanna College down the road in Scranton. But White always had the tools. He just needed the discipline to unleash them.

"When we saw him run, jump, catch, we realized he was so much superior than any ordinary player," said Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda. "But he was undisciplined. Not in a criminal way. Just in a really young way. If we had a meeting at 10:30, he'd be there at 10:35. We knew if we didn't work a little harder on him, he might not make all that potential a reality."

Even though White had the talent to help Lackawanna right away, Duda redshirted him to get the message across.

"They were very tough on me my freshman year," White said. "At the time, I didn't understand why. I thought coach disliked me. But I realize he was trying to bring out the talent I had and show me the things I need to do to be successful."

After redshirting, White missed another season at Lackawanna for financial reasons. But when he rejoined the team for his third season, he returned a completely different player, on and off the playing field.

"He came back focused like a laser beam," Duda said. "He was like a full-grown man. Attentive. A guy who had completely bought in to being a college athlete. He didn't just get athletic, he didn't just get character. He had those things. He just put it all together."

White has continued to put it together since arriving in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Facing off last weekend against Maryland's William Likely, one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten, White was unstoppable. He finished with 13 receptions and 216 receiving yards, as West Virginia avenged last year's 37-0 thumping from the Terrapins with a thrilling 40-37 victory over Duda's alma mater on the road.

"I thought he was the best player on the field," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "He's playing really well."

But as well as he's been playing, White still hasn't extinguished the memory of last season's fumble against the Sooners. The play that lit a fire also is the one he hopes to atone for this weekend.

"It still leaves a bad taste," White said. "But we're confident. We're looking to prove everyone wrong.

"We're looking to show we're not playing any games this year."