ALAMEDA, Calif. — No, this is not the Raiders, en route from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, drafting the local star in USC’s Heisman Trophy-winning running back to stay home.
But with the Las Vegas Raiders, in the throes of their move from Oakland, California, signing a versatile UNLV star who actually went to high school in Oakland as an undrafted rookie free agent, well, a certain storyline emerges. One that has Javin White breathless, and with goals.
“Hopefully,” said White, a hybrid linebacker/safety who also played a touch of cornerback at UNLV, “I can get as big as Marcus Allen.”
“That’s a big thing with Coach [Jon] Gruden,” White added. “Learn your alumni.”
With the Los Angeles Raiders, they don’t come much bigger than a Hall of Famer like Allen. And when it comes to UNLV and its football program, sure, there are Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods, Charles Dimry, Keenan McCardell, Glenn Carano and, yeah, even gangsta-rap impresario Suge Knight and SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne.
White hoped to break UNLV’s near-decadelong streak of being shut out of the NFL draft (offensive lineman Joe Hawley was the most recent Rebel drafted, in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2010, after UNLV saw 13 players selected between 1999 and 2010).
And now, White has a chance to become the first UNLV player to suit up for the Raiders in franchise history, along with former Rebels teammate Jeremiah Valoaga, a defensive end signed off waivers last Christmas Eve but who was never active and re-signed in April. Alas, making the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie is a Las Vegas-inspired gamble.
“Javin is the hybrid of all hybrids,” Tim Skipper, White’s linebackers coach and defensive coordinator the past two years at UNLV, told ESPN.com.
“He has that ability. He is very, very intelligent and he knows his football. He’ll learn the scheme and once he learns the speed of the game, he’ll be good to go. He’s a guy that loves football and he’s extremely confident. He’s a freak athlete.”
White, who played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game at the Rose Bowl in January, was not invited to the scouting combine, and his pro day at UNLV was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he held his own virtual pro day in which he measured 6-foot-2¼, weighed 217.9 pounds, got the bench press up 17 times, had a 40-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.45-second time in the 40-yard dash.
Working on a story on #Raiders UDFA LB Javin White, who was not invited to the combine and had his #UNLVfb Pro Day wiped out by the pandemic. So White held his own ‘virtual Pro Day’ and here he is, running a 4.45 40-time and showing a 40-inch vertical… https://t.co/GtVeH2E0aj
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) May 15, 2020
The Raiders, as well as the Dallas Cowboys, were intrigued. And White was enamored enough about the possibility of playing for his once and potentially future hometown team that he signed with the Raiders.
“Everything just felt,” White paused, “right.”
Then what about White appealed to the Raiders?
“He’s obviously smart, tough and extremely versatile,” Gruden told ESPN.com. “He was productive [at UNLV] each week, in any role.”
In four seasons at UNLV, White started 29 of 43 games and had 201 tackles (124 solo), with 18 for loss, 3.5 sacks, nine interceptions, 15 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“Signing with the Raiders, that’s a perfect situation for him,” said Skipper, who has his own unique history with the Raiders in that his brother, Kelly, was the team’s running backs coach from 2007 to 2014 and that Tim himself was a roommate of former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin at Fresno State.
“Javin has that versatility that’s needed in the NFL today.”
The plodding, thumping linebacker could be a relic of the past. Linebackers of this age have to be able to cover running backs and tight ends and, as Skipper said, “they have to run with those tall receivers out West.”
The Raiders overhauled their linebacker corps this offseason, signing Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency and drafting Clemson’s Tanner Muse, who has a similar body type and skill set to White, in the third round.
And about that versatility? The Raiders drafted the most versatile offensive player in the draft in Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. and another ball hawk in diminutive Louisiana Tech slot corner Amik Robertson.
Yes, White feels he fits, even if the only interaction thus far has been in nearly daylong virtual meetings.
“Right now, it’s all a mental aspect — knowing, this is where you line up, learning the checks and [I] definitely feel a lot of responsibility,” White said. “I’m at Will [linebacker] but you have to know all three positions so you know what the other guys are doing and where they’ll be.
“It’s like being a freshman all over again.”
Except he’s a “freshman” with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. A guy who has worked out with longtime NFL linebacker, Las Vegas native and Raider-for-a-minute Brandon Marshall. And one who was named to UNLV’s all-decade team at linebacker, despite beginning his college career as a safety and arriving from Oakland’s McClymonds High School as a wide receiver.
White actually lived with family in the nearby Fairfield/Vacaville area while attending McClymonds, a stone’s throw from the Jelly Belly factory. So forgive him if he feels like that proverbial kid in a candy store now.
“This is crazy,” White said. “I never would have thought this could happen. I’m just excited for this opportunity. The correlation of moving from Oakland to Las Vegas and being able to join the Raiders? It’s like they’re following me.”
White chuckled at the notion.
He was told, when offered the contract by “someone in the personnel department,” that joining the Raiders was “bigger than football, and if the pieces fall in place, I could be part of the brand,” let alone create his own as the local guy making good for the incoming NFL team.
Just pump the brakes on the Marcus Allen comps.
“However they need me to be, I’ll be,” White said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time but my thinking is I want to contribute to a good team. Not just make the team, but contribute to a good team.”