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‘I stumbled into an unbelievable university’: Sheldon White reflects on his football journey

White caught 10 interceptions and contributed heavily to the RedHawks in the 1980s
White caught 10 interceptions and contributed heavily to the RedHawks in the 1980s

The Miami University RedHawks faced the Louisiana State University Tigers on Sept. 20, 1986. LSU was ranked 8th in the nation and had just won decisively against the #1 ranked Texas A&M Aggies. The Tigers’ star-studded roster featured 16 future NFL players, including Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis. 

Nobody thought Miami had a chance, with the announcers saying that Tigers quarterback Tommy Hodson would replicate his success from the previous week. In a packed stadium with over 70,000 fans in attendance, all eyes were on the RedHawks.

Against all odds, the small midwestern school gave it their all in a rainy affair that ended in a shocking 21-12 victory for the RedHawks. Junior cornerback Sheldon White made the final interception to put the game away.

In the 1986 season, White earned six interceptions. The LSU game put him on the map for professional scouts and led to him getting drafted by the New York Giants in 1988. Years later, he returned to the NFL in a management position. 

White grew up in Dayton, just 40 miles away from Oxford. Growing up, he played both baseball and football, but fell in love with the latter after watching the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970s. 

“I just found a love for it at an early age,” White said. “If you looked at my middle school yearbook, when they asked me what I wanted to be, it said ‘professional football player.’ I had that passion early.”

At Meadowdale High School, White excelled at both sports. He was recruited for baseball from several colleges, including Michigan State University. His coaches saw his potential with baseball and implored him to quit football.

White’s father, who became terminally ill when White was 14, instructed him to continue with football and accept the first college offer he received. 

“My coach told me to play baseball, but I loved football,” White said. “Miami invited me up for an official visit for football, and I told my dad about it. He sat me down the morning before I left, and he said, ‘The first person that offers you a full scholarship, say yes.’”

The first college to recruit him for football was none other than Miami University.

White played football in the fall and ran for the track team in the spring under Miami Hall-of-Famer and track coach Chuck Zody. Prior to Miami, White had never played defensive back, but his coaches saw potential with his speed. 

One day, Zody watched White run the 40-yard dash. 

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“The track coach grabbed me after and asked if I’d ever run before,” White said. “I said no, and he said, ‘I could tell, your technique is terrible.’ He said if I came out and worked with him after spring football, he’d drop my time.”

Within a year, White dropped his 40-yard dash speed from 4.4 to 4.2 seconds, putting him as the fastest runner at the BLESTO scouting combine, a national football combine, in 1987. 

With his ability to run, White proved to be a powerhouse on defense. He caught 10 interceptions for 56 yards in his career and contributed heavily to the RedHawks in the late ’80s. 

White earned a name for himself in the MAC, but his national prominence came from the annual “Pay-Day Game,” as he calls them. Each year, Miami plays a big school once during the season, allowing the RedHawks to get the spotlight on them. If they do well in these games, they have the opportunity to gain attention from scouts and even get them drafted into the NFL.

“I was showing up against big schools and making plays against the Hall of Fame guys,” White said. “If we don’t do well, it’s fine because it wasn’t expected for you to do well. But if you do well, all of a sudden, from a scout’s perspective, there’s this kid from Miami of Ohio who’s not only fast, but just got three PBU’s on Michael Irvin.”

White’s collegiate career and his performance against big-name schools led to him getting drafted into the NFL in 1988 by the New York Giants, where he played for three years before heading to the Detroit Lions and eventually the Cincinnati Bengals.

White had 11 interceptions for 151 yards and one touchdown in his professional career, before suffering a career-ending neck injury in 1993. Soon afterwards, Miami Head Coach Randy Walker called him to return as a wide receiver coach. He joined future Denver Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton, who was offensive coordinator from ’94-95. 

His experience as a wide receiver coach for three years as well as his defensive career helped him become an entry level scout for the Lions in 1997. 

He stayed with the Lions through several promotions, eventually becoming Vice President of Pro Personnel. When the Lions started the 2015 season 1-7, the owners fired everyone and made White the interim general manager for the remainder of the season. He helped the Lions finish the season going 6-2. 

Perhaps White would have become permanent general manager, if it weren’t for an Aaron Rodgers hail mary in December that ended a three-game winning streak for the Lions. After finishing the season  7-9, White and the Lions parted ways after 18 years. 

With his children in high school, White temporarily retired from professional football management. Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio asked White to join the Spartans as a consultant in 2016, but he rose to Executive Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting until Dantonio retired in 2019. 

White worked for the Washington Commanders as an area scout again before receiving an offer from the Steelers, the same team he grew up watching, in 2022. He currently serves as the director of pro scouting. 

“I would turn in every transaction of who we were signing and who we were cutting,” White said. “We would turn that in, and they would consolidate all those names, and it would become official by 4:00pm every day.”

Since he graduated from Miami, White stays up-to-date with the football program. He previously served on the Business Advisory Council with the Farmer School of Business, and he sat down with Head Coach Chuck Martin when he was in his second year coaching for the RedHawks. 

“All of us alumni are following and monitoring the school,” White said. “We’re constantly tracking Miami football. It’s always huge to be able to discuss that. I stumbled into an unbelievable university.”