CHICAGO -- Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White is fed up.
He’s tired of the “OK” seasons punctuated by seven wins. He’s fatigued about reflecting on his NFL future. He’s disinterested in the preseason watch lists.
“Last year, I probably would’ve been all about it,” he said, referring to his spot on the Butkus Award watch list. “I would’ve been like, ‘I’m going to prove I belong on this list.’ And, this year, I want to win games. That’s pretty much it.
“I’m trying to win games. I'm tired -- you know you get fed up at a point? You get tired of something? I’m going to do everything in my power to win games. That’s what I’m going to do.”
It’s not unusual for a fifth-year senior to voice his desire to win. But Wartman-White spoke Monday as if he were on the blue bus ride to his final college game. He wanted to make it clear that nothing was more important to him than the Nittany Lions’ 2016 football season.
The NFL? “The next level doesn’t matter. I’m going to remember Penn State more than some next level.”
The stats? “One tackle a game and [more] wins? Fine with me. I don’t care.”
Wartman-White admitted that wasn’t entirely the case in the past. Sure, the team still came first. But he worried about his NFL draft stock. He wondered about life after college.
“It’s my last everything,” he said. “I’m putting on these uniforms and experiencing Beaver Stadium seven more times. And that’s it. … It’s actually kind of sad. I don’t want to stop playing in the Big Ten or stop playing for Penn State.”
Wartman-White furiously chewed a white stick of gum while speaking quickly and passionately during Monday’s podium interviews at Big Ten media days. And he wasn’t shy about sharing where this mentality came from -- last year’s season-ending injury in the opener, the day when "the world fell on me.”
He knows now what it feels like to have football torn away, to be around the field without being on the field. He said he could feel his teammates’ eyes on him at practice; he knew they felt sorry for him. And he hated that.
Wartman-White promised himself that he would focus on the future and not sulk, at least not in public. Not in front of his teammates. He’d hobble around the locker room and joke with them about how he’d be running in just a few weeks.
“Obviously we knew he couldn’t,” fellow linebacker Brandon Bell said, “but he was always laughing about it. I’m sure he was hurting inside, but obviously he kind of masked or got over the pain.”
Wartman-White’s teammates have been itching to get back on the field ever since April’s Blue-White Game. For Wartman-White, the wait so far has reached 325 days. He’s open to pursuing a sixth year of eligibility but, for now, he knows 2016 will likely be his final season. He knows, even if he feels nearly 100 percent, he can’t take that time for granted anymore.
That’s why winning is so important. It’s all that’s left; it's all that's certain.
“I’m over proving myself to get to the next level,” he said. “I want to win games; that’s all I want to do. It’s my fifth year. The most games I won at Penn State is eight. I’m trying to win 12, 14. I’m trying to win games. I’m over it.
“The NFL, on average, doesn’t last as long as college -- and you don’t have the same pride. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m more worried about what we got here and how we’re going to get better.”