FOXBORO — On the final day of practice before their matchup with Houston Texans on Sunday, newly appointed team captain James White drew a large crown in the Patriots locker room.
White, now in his fifth NFL season, has a somewhat typical underdog story for a member of Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
The 2014 third round pick only played in three games in his rookie season in New England.
He then became a hero in Super Bowl LII, and now he’s now a team captain, quite the journey for the running back from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Belichick noticed White’s improvement over time as well saying, “that was a big jump for him. He had a good player [Shane Vereen] playing ahead of him his rookie season…as we’ve seen from a lot of players, there’s great development from year one to year two.”
Battling for playing time is nothing new for White, who has been competing in the backfield with other talented players his entire life.
White was on the same High School team as Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, and shared the backfield with fellow NFL’ers Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement at Wisconsin.
The competition, White said, made him a better football player.
He also acknowledged that it has helped him make a name for himself in New England, where the Patriots typically have multiple running backs that play significant time throughout the season.
“It was more of sharing the load. I’ve never had a problem with that…It’s always been something for me since High School and little league. It’s great competition, and it’s made me a better player.”
Reflecting on where he started as a rookie in New England until now White said, “It’s been a process for sure, but everyone has their own process and different challenges when they come into the league. I learned a lot from my rookie year till now.”
Now with a clear role in the Patriots’ backfield, White is facing a new challenge as one of six team captains this season, but he doesn’t plan on changing anything about his approach to leadership or his performance on the field.
“It’s definitely an honor, White said on being elected a team captain.
“For me, it’s just trying to lead by example try to do things the right way…I may not be the most vocal guy but just try to help guys along as much as I can.”
As the Patriots enter the 2018 regular season, White’s dependability and consistency stick out the most to head coach Bill Belichick, which makes the running back an ideal Patriot, and an easy choice for team captain.
“He’s done a great job for us both on and off the field. He’s one of our most dependable players. Everybody has a lot of confidence in him because he’s earned it. He’s earned that confidence and trust from his teammates and his coaches by doing it on a consistent basis,” Belichick said.
On the field, there’s a significant amount of hype surrounding White this season, as his receiving skills will likely be a huge factor for the team as they always are, but even more so without wide receiver Julian Edelman for the first four weeks of the season.
Some have even discussed the possibility of White breaking former Patriot Tony Collins’ single-season franchise record for receptions by a running back, which Collins set at 77 in 1986.
But as you’d expect, White isn’t focused on breaking any team records this season.
“No, no not necessarily,” White said in response to the idea of him breaking Collins’ record.
“I just go out there and try to put my best foot forward.”
White’s story of a mid-round pick to team captain is nothing new in New England, but the running back with sweet feet has certainly carved out a significant role in the Patriots backfield.
He has followed in the footsteps of a long line of successful receiving backs in Foxboro over the last two decades, a list that includes Patriot Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and the man that held the spot during White’s rookie season, Shane Vereen.
But even those great receiving backs of the past couldn’t match White’s 2016 season, where he had the second-most receiving yards by a Patriot running back in a single-season (551).
Based on the Patriots’ current personnel, and White’s ascension to one of the leaders in the locker room, don’t be surprised if he breaks multiple team running back records in the passing game in 2018.