Photo: Ethan White; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
One year ago, Ethan White was on track to become the Gators' starting center.
If it came to fruition, White would have become the first true sophomore to start on Florida's offensive line in Week 1 during Dan Mullen's time as UF's head coach. Weeks before the season began, however, White suffered a left knee injury in the team's fall camp that kept him sidelined until the Arkansas game on November 14.
"It wasn't super serious but I had never experienced any type of injury like that before. So the hardest thing for me was probably those first couple of weeks mentally," White shared with AllGators this week.
White was consulted by teammates who had dealt with major knee injuries in the weeks to follow, namely running back Malik Davis and offensive lineman Brett Heggie. The two suffered torn ACLs earlier in their Gators careers, and while White's injury wasn't to that extreme, the veterans were able to boost White's spirits and keep his mind right throughout the recovery process.
"They just kind of talked to me," White said. "You know, 'Keep your head in the right place and not worry about how it feels right now,' and just kind of focus on the long-term goal of getting back where I needed to be."
Of course, White already knows a thing or two about focusing on - and meeting - his long-term goals.
The Clearwater, Fla. native enrolled at UF in January 2019 and immediately got to work on losing weight and reshaping his body. After enrolling at 393 pounds and teaming up with strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage, White lost about 35 pounds in two months and cut down to a healthy playing weight during his freshman year, as low as 338 pounds by season's end.
Impressing each of his coaches along the way, White proceeded to take the field in six games on a total of 186 offensive snaps that season, even cracking the offensive line rotation in the Orange Bowl against Virginia. He graded out as one of Florida's top offensive linemen for the entire year, according to Pro Football Focus, earning an above-average run-blocking grade of 70.8 while allowing zero sacks and only two pressures in pass protection.
"Honestly as a young guy, that's really just a confidence booster," White mentioned about his early playing time.
"Because you go out, you can perform in practice, but you're never really sure if it'll work or not until you get in the game," he continued. "And then obviously, you get in the game, you do your job and you try to grade out, and that really just boosts your confidence going into the future as I've done it a few times. I just got to continue to get better at it."
It wasn't only his excellence in the strength program that put White on the field so early, though. White also epitomized versatility during his first year at UF. He not only earned snaps at both left and right guard in 2019, a difficult task on its own, but White also spent time at offensive tackle throughout his first spring camp with the team.
That inspired enough confidence to try White at center after Nick Buchanan exited the program after the 2019 season.
"Playing multiple positions, both guards and a little bit of tackle, kind of made center [an] easier transition because I wasn't unsure of what everybody else was doing around me," White mentioned.
With the knee injury behind him and some muscle mass added, White entered Florida's 2021 spring camp at 6-foot-5, 346 pounds according to UF's roster. Following the departures of left tackle Stone Forsythe and center Brett Heggie to the NFL, White once again anticipates a role as a starter among Florida's front five.
White spent most of Florida's most recent spring camp back at guard, although he would occasionally earn reps at center among a group of four players.
Goal-driven, White cares not about which position he'll play for Florida this year. After proving his versatility in practice for two years, his determination in the weight room for even longer, White's next goal is to emerge as a consistent performer.
"I want to prove I can be consistent, because in my eyes, I really haven't had any consistent film yet. I've kind of had half a season, an injury and then another half a season," White vocalized. "I just want to prove that I can go out there, play a whole game and really dominate other SEC teams instead of just playing in bursts like I did my first two years. Just be that consistent starter."