The quarterback arrived on campus from Baldwin County, Ala., with the reputation as a great athlete. Professional baseball waved big money at him, money that would have turned many a head, but he loved football too much. Perhaps he loved it because he was so good at it. In his first season as a starter, he didn't lose a game, capping the season off by leading his team to a headline-grabbing Sugar Bowl victory.
Patrick White of West Virginia has a compelling story, but it doesn't belong only to him. He is the second coming of Ken Stabler, because all of the above describes not only White circa 2005, but the Snake at Alabama in 1966. Stabler, who grew up in Foley, 25 miles east of White's hometown of Daphne, turned down a $50,000 bonus to sign with the Yankees in order to play for the Crimson Tide. When Stabler took over a two-time defending national championship team, all he did was lead it to an 11-0 record, including a 34-7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl.
White, the redshirt sophomore, turned down a $400,000 offer from the Los Angeles Angels after they drafted him in the fourth round in 2004. He came off the bench last season to lead the Mountaineers to fourth-quarter comebacks against Maryland and Louisville. He took over the offense and went 5-0 as a starter, including the 38-35 Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia.
"I've heard a couple of things about Stabler," White said Wednesday. At his age, his idea of a local quarterback star runs closer to LSU redshirt junior JaMarcus Russell, who grew up just across Mobile Bay in Mobile. "I actually didn't know JaMarcus well until I went to LSU on a recruiting visit."
White went to West Virginia instead of LSU or Auburn or Alabama because coach Rich Rodriguez wanted him as a quarterback. The others paid lip service to White's wish to run the offense and all but him on their depth charts as a wide receiver. That's why White did not blanch at the thought of going 930 miles north to Morgantown.
He also had an older brother, James, who went to West Liberty State, a Division II school in northwestern West Virginia. The prospect of snow did not scare him. White might have known where West Virginia is, but people back home did not.
"I would go home and people would ask me, 'How is Virginia looking?' 'Are you the backup quarterback at Virginia Tech behind Marcus Vick?'" White said.
They are not asking those questions any longer. White appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, a couple of days after his picture took up most of the front page of the USA Today sports section. The Mountaineers are hot, which is why Rodriguez began last winter to stress to his team that it remain hungry and humble.
"I look at them," White said of his clippings, "but it's just a picture. A lot of people are making a big deal of it. I won't even read the articles."
The West Virginia offense is ideal for a running, throwing quarterback. White proved how dangerous he could be in it last season, when he rushed for 952 yards and seven touchdowns. His passing numbers look good (65-114-5, 828 yards, 8 touchdowns) but White still faced the criticism that he is a runner first. He spent the spring and summer honing his passing skills, such as learning the offense and watching video to learn better how to read defenses. In summer drills, he worked on timing with his receivers.
It can be difficult for young quarterbacks to assert control over a huddle filled with upperclassmen. As a freshman at Tennessee, Peyton Manning entered the huddle with a lot of rah-rah, only to be told by a senior lineman, give or take an obscenity, to, "Shut up and call the play."
White experienced none of that last season, even as he took the job away from veteran Adam Bednarik. "We're a family," White explained. Center Dan Mozes, however, said that both White and Steve Slaton, the tailback who as a freshman last year won the starting job at midseason and became the Sugar Bowl MVP, showed maturity and a work ethic typically unseen among freshmen.
White is young no longer. This is his team. He has become the face of West Virginia football. A muscle injury in his side slowed him down earlier this month, but White said he is fine and will be at full speed for the opener against cross-state rival Marshall on Sept. 2.
If you believe in karma, then worry no longer about White's ability to pass. The same concerns applied to Stabler, who completed only 3 of 11 passes as a backup at Alabama in 1965. Stabler passed well enough to play 15 seasons in the NFL and win Super Bowl XI with the Oakland Raiders. Four decades later, White should be just fine.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.