Michigan State tailback Lorenzo White is consumed with self-doubt. "I don't know what it's going to take to get that feeling that I'm a good football player," says White, his voice, as usual, barely above a whisper. "I hear it a lot, but I guess I don't believe it."
Two seasons ago White gained more yards—1,908—than any sophomore ever. Only three running backs of any class—Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier and Tony Dorsett—ever did better.
So what would convince White that he has arrived? He ticks off his goals for this season: to win the Heisman Trophy, break Allen's single-season rushing record of 2,342 yards and help his team win the Big Ten title. Such aspirations might seem beyond reach until you meet White's mother, Gloria Golden. Winning the Heisman would be child's play compared with the challenge she faced raising Lorenzo and his sister, Carla, on the poor side of Fort Lauderdale. She often worked at three jobs to keep her family afloat and furnish her small one-story house. She showed her children that hard work pays dividends.
"Just seeing Lorenzo achieve helped me get over the tiredness when I got home," says Gloria now.
Seeing Lorenzo achieve has also meant having to contend with some glib—and flawed—stereotypes. Yes, White's father, Larry, left home when Lorenzo was very young, but Lorenzo bears him no resentment. Father and son talk frequently.
Then there's the matter of Lorenzo's three-year-old daughter, Monique, born the day after White left for his freshman year at Michigan State. Lorenzo and Monique's mother have chosen not to marry, so, of course, there must be hard feelings there as well. In fact, the two are very close; Lorenzo is a dedicated father and child care is happily shared by all concerned. Says White, "I just want to get myself in a position where I can help my family. After that, everything will fall into place."
White has also had to deal with the rumors about his relationship with agent Norby Walters. To date, at least four college athletes have lost eligibility after accepting money from Walters. When White's name was mentioned in that context last May, many assumed he would also have to forgo his senior year.
White denied signing with Walters, and subsequent investigations by the NCAA, the Big Ten and Michigan State have concluded the same. Gloria did meet with Walters—"I always told Lorenzo that if someone's bothering him, to just put them off on me," she says. But afterward Lorenzo and Gloria decided not to get involved with Walters in the same way they have made all the important decisions in Lorenzo's life—together.
Spartan coach George Perles never lost faith in his star. "He's just a guy who does everything right," Perles says. "He goes to school, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink. He just got a great upbringing." About White's football abilities, Perles is rhapsodic. "He can hurdle people, he can catch the ball, he can throw the ball, he can cut back against the grain. I don't know how fast he is, but no one catches him."
Now that White has left the agent whispers behind, the media spotlight has dimmed. The Heisman talk is also less insistent, a consequence of an injury-plagued junior year in which White gained a relatively paltry 633 yards. But his determination is unchanged. "I think I want the Heisman more than I ever wanted it before," he says. "It's like I missed the whole season last year." Gloria is ready too. "It's just a blessing to me to see that he's achieving. It's not finished, but he's persevering."