Keion White ‘1,000% back’ and eager to disrupt on Georgia Tech defense

The last time Keion White was healthy and playing football, it was at Old Dominion in 2019.

A full-systems-go White contributing to a Georgia Tech defense that needs a boost has been a long time coming, but it seems that might finally be coming to fruition.

“I’m 1,000% back,” White said Saturday at Media Day. “I was getting to the point last year where I was just trying to get back on the field and feel comfortable being back on the field. Wasn’t able to get to that point. But over the offseason I’ve done a lot of rehab, done a lot of training, done a lot of field work, and I’m at the point where I’m confident enough that I feel like I’m better than I was before I was injured. So I’m definitely 1,000% back.”

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White played in the Yellow Jackets’ final four games of last season, but wasn’t fully healthy. He also didn’t get to play in 2020, with Old Dominion forgoing the season because of COVID-19. He transitioned to defensive end in the spring of 2019 after playing two seasons at tight end. So, now, White brings a unique perspective to Tech in two ways: he’s a super senior, one of the older guys in the room, and can break down the game from the perspective of the offense and the defense.

He also figures to play an important role on the defensive line, with starters Jordan Domineck (now at Arkansas) and Jared Ivey (now at Ole Miss) transferring, as the Jackets aim to bounce back from three consecutive three-win seasons.

“I’m really excited about Keion,” coach Geoff Collins said Saturday. “I think when he came to us a year-and-a-half ago, there was a lot of build-up and a lot of excitement. And unfortunately Keion had some injury things and wasn’t ever 100% last year, but he is a tough, physical person. He’s a leader in the locker room, and it’s not a lot of rah-rah, it’s not a lot of talk, but just his attitude, his demeanor, his seriousness, his focus, how he works every single day kind of permeates throughout our entire locker room and our entire organization.”

During his time spent injured or out during the COVID season, White didn’t get too down, he said.

If he hadn’t improved from then until now, that would be the main disappointment – that’s why he focused on developing his game, particularly as a pass rusher. As a sophomore at Old Dominion in 2019, White was named second-team All-Conference USA, starting all 12 games at defensive end and finishing 10th in FBS with 19 tackles for loss (finishing fourth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for a team-leading 3.5 sacks).

“It was kind of crazy because I was at the high point in my career and then didn’t play for two years,” White said. “But like I said, everything happens for a reason, so you’ve just got to deal with the situation that’s thrown at you and just make the most of it. ...”

“I was pretty good then, but the goal is, if I don’t improve since then, then it was all for nothing, taking these couple years off. So I definitely feel like I improved in some of the passing game, using my hands a little bit better, not being so physical at the point of attack and throwing my body in there and just playing with a little bit more knowledge than I was before.”

Given his background at tight end, White said younger players have asked him for advice on anticipating what the offense may be thinking. That’s a role he’s happy to take on.

It also adds to his own game.

“It helps me a lot,” White said. “My main goal when I’m on the field is to be disruptive, and so by playing offense, I know what they don’t want the defense to be able to do, in any given situation. So when I’m on defense, I just do what they don’t want me to do. So it helps me, definitely, being more disruptive.”

For both White’s and Tech’s sake, Collins is happy to see a healthy White participating on defense and even taking on a leadership role.

“I’m just excited to see a healthy Keion White out there playing around, for him, for us,” Collins said. “And the thing I’m most excited about is who he is as a young man and the leader and the guy that kind of sets the tone on a daily basis in the locker room.”