By Kayci Woodley
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Iowa State running back James White has put the pedal to the medal since day one of training camp. Whether running against the air in practice, studying an opposing team's defensive tactics or breaking away from linebackers on game day, White is always engaged and in full focus. The redshirt sophomore quietly goes about his business and brings the same level of intensity day in and day out for the Cyclone football team.
At training camp, Iowa State running backs coach Kenith Pope noticed White's positive attitude, explosiveness and ability to read defenses. After redshirting his initial collegiate season and seeing limited action in 2010, White aimed to find a way into the lineup.
"Every time he put the ball under his arm he was doing something positive," Pope said. "I measured what the backs did every day in training camp and when we looked at film he was one of the guys inching up on everybody else. He was showing us he could play somewhere on this football team."
As a result of his dedication in the preseason, White is Iowa State's leading rusher this season with 444 yards and is tied with Cyclone receiver Darius Reynolds for most touchdowns (6).
Not only has the 5-foot-8-inch, 184-pounder made an impact on the Iowa State offense, White also has made some noise in the Big 12. White ranks eighth in conference play with 333 yards and averages 5.9 yards per carry, the third-highest mark in the Conference.
White had a productive game in Iowa State's week one victory over Northern Iowa. In the Cyclones' triple overtime win against Iowa, White came through under pressure. The Hawkeyes led 41-38 in the third overtime period when White ran an option play to the right side and quickly danced four yards into the end zone to clinch the victory.
"What everybody on this football team understands about James, coaches and players alike, is he's the same guy every day," said Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads. "And when you bring that mentality to practice you can't help but improve. With added repetitions and seeing other defenses, he's had to match his skill with that skill and has done nothing but enhance his game."
White's speed allows him to be effective in both option plays and zone reads, but the 20-year-old prefers zeroing in on his targets and finding cutback lanes and creases to burst through.
"I think his speed has surprised even the members of this team," Rhoads said. "His quickness is very obvious to see. He gets through holes fast, he can make some people miss and then he can accelerate. I didn't believe he had the ability to leave people behind to the extent that he's done against Baylor and Texas and that's very promising."
White has combined for 253 yards and two touchdowns on the road this season, with a 26-yard touchdown run against Connecticut on Sept. 16 and a career-high 76-yard touchdown dash Oct. 8 against Baylor. White separated from Bears defenders and produced 148 yards on 16 carries, also a career high for him. The 76-yard touchdown run was the longest score for an ISU player in nine years.
"The linemen did a good job of blocking as I was going down field and once I got to the outside I saw green grass and just turned on my speed," White said of his score against Baylor. "It was just me at that point and I needed to trust my speed."
Referred to as "Wildman" by his uncle in his younger years, White's nickname has worn off but the 100 mile an hour attitude has not. Both Pope and Rhoads refer to White as constantly mowing over players in practice and never letting up. Pure focus combined with White's hardcore preparation have accounted for much of his success this season.
"He gives you a good day's work every day," Pope said. "He's very motivated right now and pays attention to all the little details. Everything you tell James he tries to do those particular things to the letter."
The Dallas, Texas-native is observant in practice and always picking Pope's brain with questions. A neck injury has sidelined former leading rusher Shontrelle Johnson, which will mean even more snaps for White as the season progresses.
White won't be letting off on the accelerator anytime soon.
Ensuring linebackers don't get to Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz and chopping tight ends on the outside are two facets of his game White hopes to improve. White says running and catching the ball is always going to be there, but wants to become a multi-faceted back.
"I feel like I'm playing a bigger role offensively now and I have to produce more," White said. "But I also want to improve my blocking and make sure I'm a more complete back."
White averages 63.4 yards per game this season and hopes to help Iowa State bounce back after its loss to Texas A&M Saturday. Against the Aggies White posted 60 yards on 16 carries and made a 19-yard touchdown run to give Iowa State an early 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
White returns to his home state Saturday as the Cyclones travel to Lubbock, Texas for a Big 12 matchup with Texas Tech. Kickoff against the Red Raiders is set for 6 p.m. (CST).