Socci’s Notebook: The back with ‘sweet feet’ and a sweeter smile

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 28: James White of the New England Patriots talks to the media during Super Bowl LIII Opening Night at State Farm Arena. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 28: James White of the New England Patriots talks to the media during Super Bowl LIII Opening Night at State Farm Arena. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub

ATLANTA — Nicknamed for his "Sweet Feet," James White may be best known for the ever-glowing expression he wears on his face.

Along with running, catching and scoring, White has been smiling his way through life; from South Florida childhood to college at Wisconsin to Super Bowl stardom as a Patriot.

“I think I called him ‘Smiley’ back in college,” says Rob Havenstein, the Rams starting right tackle who blocked for White in college well before opposing him in Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII. “He’s always smiling, he’s always happy. I don’t think you’re ever going to catch him with a frown on.”

Before Havenstein and White were recruited to be Badgers in the same class, New England wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was witness to that smile as a high school teammate at Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.

“James is always the same guy,” said Dorsett, who was reunited with White in Sept. 2017 after being traded from Indianapolis. “When I got here I hadn’t seen James in probably a couple of years. Coming in [to the Patriots] he was the same dude as at St. Thomas. Always smiling, always positive.”

Jan 28, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots running back James White during Opening Night for Super Bowl LIII at State Farm Arena. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 28, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots running back James White during Opening Night for Super Bowl LIII at State Farm Arena. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Between stints as teammates, Dorsett graduated to the University of Miami and became a top draft choice of the Colts. White joined Havenstein in Madison and landed with the Pats as a fourth-round pick.

Two Super Bowl victories for White later — one, essentially, as a red-shirt and another as a 20-point, 14-catch record-setter — they got this far together last February. And here they are again.

Some might say they're living a dream. Literally speaking, Dorsett isn’t one of them. Only because he says the idea of playing in the NFL, let alone the Super Bowl, never entered their minds even as they were helping the STA Raiders maintain state and national prep preeminence.

“Never even talked about it. We were the kind of people that just wanted to see what happened,” Dorsett explained. “Our goal was just going to college. Beyond that ... I’d be lying if I told you that I’d be here playing in my second Super Bowl.

"It’s crazy."

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and running back James White and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett react after a touchdown during the first half at Soldier Field. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and running back James White and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett react after a touchdown during the first half at Soldier Field. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Crazy made real, in great part, because of White’s steady excellence all season long and Dorsett’s re-emergence late in the year. A big reason for the latter, including touchdown catches in both AFC playoff wins, is Dorsett’s high school buddy.

Despite catching nearly everything thrown in his direction, Dorsett’s playing time dipped considerably once Josh Gordon joined the Patriots. But when Gordon left the team in Week 16, Dorsett seized opportunity — as well as all five passes Tom Brady threw him in Week 17.

Dorsett stayed in the playbook and stayed positive, even after four straight December games without being targeted, thanks in part to the back with the sweet feet and engaging smile.

"[James] always helped me when I needed help," Dorsett says.

No wonder White also wears the title of team captain.

"It doesn’t surprise me at all," Havenstein said. "He’s an awesome guy and, obviously, he’s a helluva back."

You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.