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Mike White Reflects on Winding Journey to First NFL Start

New York Jets quarterback Mike White will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, finally accomplishing his goal after a long road to this point.

For many quarterbacks, the journey to the NFL is straight and narrow. After shining at the position at a young age, players blossom in the collegiate ranks, celebrate on draft night before quickly finding a role in the pros.

Sure, there are always bumps in the road and every prospect has a different path, but highly-touted quarterbacks can accelerate to the mountaintop, fulfilling their lofty expectations along the way.

That hasn't been the case for Mike White, the Jets' backup who is set to make his first career start this Sunday against the Bengals.

White didn't play quarterback until high school, hanging up his baseball spikes to pursue a career in football. He began his college career at the University of South Florida, but transferred after his sophomore season. A change in offense favored running quarterbacks and no longer fit his skill set.

The 26-year-old went on to excel at Western Kentucky, throwing for 4,000-plus yards in both his junior and senior years. But even after getting drafted in 2018 by the Cowboys, in the fifth round, it took years—and an injury to Jets rookie Zach Wilson—for White to finally make his regular season debut. 

"Any backup’s career there’s always going to be ups and downs, changing teams, offenses and things of that nature," White told reporters on Thursday. "After I got released by the Cowboys and then signed here to [the practice squad] and then last year, up on active, p-squad, up. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but I think, personally, I’m proud of how I handled it and persevered and kept continuing to work my tail off and get better and put myself into this situation."

White's first NFL action came last week in the second quarter of New York's blowout loss to the Patriots. When Wilson went down with a sprained PCL in his right knee, White promptly capped off a scoring drive with a touchdown pass on his first official pass attempt. 

That moment, and the rest of Sunday's ballgame, was unforgettable for White. Getting a start this week against Cincinnati, however, is even more special. White called an NFL start his ultimate goal.

"I’m starting an NFL game, so that’s pretty freaking cool," he said.

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Throughout this week, head coach Robert Saleh, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and a slew of players have endorsed White, placing faith in a backup with barely any experience.

The key that Saleh harped on after naming White the starterdespite the acquisition of veteran Joe Flacco—was to not make this game bigger than it needs to be. The coach wants White to go out there and execute, showing what he's capable of.

White has that same approach in mind.

"I’ve gone into this week and attacked this week as trying not to make it more than what it is," White said. "We’re going out there on Sunday and I’m going to try and help this football team win and do my job.

"Once you add more pressure to it, you start to mentally lock up and then do things that aren’t in your realm. So, I think personally, I’m trying not to think of anything of that nature. Just go out there, play my game, have fun with my guys."

White threw for 202 yards last Sunday, completing 20 out of 32 passes with a touchdown and two picks. It'll take a complete effort from this offense to upset the first-place Bengals, a club that scores and keeps opponents off the board with the best of 'em. Either way, Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium will be a momentous occasion for White, a culmination of years of perseverance and patience, biding his time for an opportunity while continuing to develop on and off the field . 

It's also a chance for him to prove himself, a challenge White is embracing.

"I think as a backup, whenever you get the chance to start, that’s always your chance to prove yourself," White explained. "I just want to go out there and do my job and help this team win."

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