By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Even the game’s greatest players have experienced tribulations to their triumphs.
That message from legendary quarterback Peyton Manning while visiting the Bears on Wednesday stuck with receiver Kevin White, whose career to this point is defined by two leg injuries, subsequent surgeries and grueling recoveries. White came into the league bearing high hopes as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 draft. One can only wonder what he will become.
Manning wanted White to know what he experienced fighting back from neck surgery in 2011 to save his career and lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl title in his final game. Just because Manning was an all-time great didn’t mean it was easy.
It resonated with White.
“When you sign up, you sign up for it all – the injuries, the setbacks, whether you lose your job or get your job,” White said, recalling the words of Manning. “The ups and downs, basically. When you sign up for this game, anything can happen. You just got to take everything with a grain of salt and fight through everything.
“That was a good story he told me that kind of hit home for me.”
White is moving forward with the words of Manning as he enters this, his third season in the NFL, with a different mindset. He isn’t taking anything for granted. Being away from football — he’s only played in four games combined in the last two seasons — only strengthened his passion for the game.
The practice field behind Halas Hall has become a sanctuary for White. There’s no outside noise from frustrated fans or winds of doubts sweeping through. On the field, White can just be himself. The inner confidence reveals itself with loud shrieks after a big catch in traffic and occasional talk to cornerbacks he beats.
Those on the outside can label White a bust already. He tries to avoid it, but, really, how could you? So he tries to dismiss it with a simple fact: They don’t know the work he’s putting in.
What does White think he can be?
“We’ll just all have to see,” White said. “Sit back and watch. … Same player I’ve been since I was younger. Confident, hungry and ready to prove everyone wrong – just like I’ve always been.”
Added quarterback Mike Glennon of White: “The talent is there. It’s just a matter of him getting out on the field and doing it. He’s going to do that this season. I’m very confident in Kevin and what he brings to us.”
The Bears have worked to instill confidence in White, who remains a key part of their future. After he returned to action this offseason, the team plugged him in as a top receiver. There was no consideration to making him earn that place atop the depth chart.
General manager Ryan Pace and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains were the last to leave the practice field Thursday with White. They spoke about football but also caught up on life away from the facility. The veteran Glennon has leaned on White while attempting to establish himself as the starter this offseason. The relationship between the two is clear and beneficial.
Relationships have been important for White.
“Those are my guys,” he said. “They put their trust in me, I put my trust in them. We’re just excited to get ready and put some good stuff on film.”
White has spent this preseason focusing on the little details of his game, like how to mix different releases and beat cornerbacks off the snap. There’s extensive film study that goes into each day. He’s always finding ways to get better.
But there hasn’t been a consistent showing from White thus far in the preseason. He claims the confidence that hasn’t yet been revealed on the field. By lining up White out wide, the Bears are hoping to see the performance of a top receiver.
Ultimately, that confidence can only prove to be true if White is attacking for the football in coverage, using his 6-foot-3 frame and speed to be better than an opposing cornerback. That’s the next step for him.
Manning’s words will remain with White as he moves into this new season. It’s time to fight ahead.
“I can’t look back,” he said. “I’m looking forward. I’m ready to go.”