That first year away was trying enough for Navy sophomore slotback Shun White. He had a hard time adjusting to the cold weather in Newport, R.I., home of the Naval Academy Prep School. He badly missed his family and friends, and for the first time, he could not indulge his craving for Memphis barbecued ribs.
Then came his plebe year in Annapolis, where White struggled at times adjusting to the ultra-orderly details imposed on him at Bancroft Hall, home of the Brigade of Midshipmen.
To watch White now is to witness perhaps Navy's fastest player, who is learning how to fit in, on and off the field. His coaches want him to improve his blocking, but they can't deny the dynamic asset he has become, despite limited chances to touch the ball. And White, who until his senior year at Raleigh-Egypt High School had never considered the military, is on track to fulfill his goal of becoming a surface warfare officer.
Vera White, Shun's mother, is not surprised her son has conformed to the ways of the academy. He got a pretty good primer growing up under the watchful eyes of his parents, including George White, a star running back at then-segregated Manassas High in Memphis in the mid-1960s.
"We didn't allow him to say 'What?' It was always, `Yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am.' That's been instilled in him from the time he was 3," said Vera White, an assistant manager at a pharmacy.
"His father [a postal service truck driver] was a little more strict than I was. I was usually the one who gave in. But Shun was already disciplined by the time he left home. He's always been organized, and he's a cleanliness fanatic. He's still got a perfectly organized closet at home today."
"I had a lot of rules at home, the yes-sirs, no-sirs. I learned about going with the flow. My dad was always on my back, pushing me. It's kind of the same thing here," said White, who will turn 21 next month.
"NAPS was an awakening. Then, as a plebe, the only thing I thought about was, please, Lord, help me get through this year. Now that I'm a sophomore, I can slow things down and take a look at my life and see where I'm going."
White, 5 feet 9, 187 pounds, barely played a year ago. With the speed he used to become a state champion in the 100-meter dash as a senior at Raleigh-Egypt, White has emerged as Navy's top big-play threat this side of junior slotback Reggie Campbell. He also runs on Navy's 400-meter relay team with Campbell.
In last week's 38-13 rout at Duke, White helped the Midshipmen take control in the first half with a 39-yard touchdown run. The sight of White ripping off yardage in Navy's spread option offense has become familiar. He often catches the pitch with space to operate in, and Navy's most explosive backup is averaging a team-high 11.7 yards per carry on just 26 carries, with three touchdowns.
Navy coach Paul Johnson and slotbacks coach Jeff Monken each said White would contend for a starting job if he elevated his blocking game and did it with the consistency of starter Zerbin Singleton. Monken also wants White to run through more tackles to complement his speed.
"Shun is doing a good job, but if he was as good without the ball as he is with it, he'd be playing all the time," Johnson said.
White's speed was obvious in high school, when he was a three-time letter winner in football and track. As a junior, he played fullback in the same spread option Navy runs, and rushed for more than 1,500 yards, drawing a scholarship offer from Wake Forest. Wake wanted him to play cornerback. White withheld making a commitment.
The next summer, White said he ran a 4.35-second, 40-yard dash at an Ole Miss camp and drew heated interest from Mississippi, Southern Mississippi and Tennessee State, with the same position stipulation. Each school thought he was too small to hold up as a running back. Then, White missed several games early in his senior season with an ankle injury.
"I didn't want to play defense. This is the only school that wanted to take me as an offensive player," White said.
"My mom always told me to look at the bigger picture. I'm getting a real good education and a degree [in economics]. Football takes my mind off of the stress going on in [Bancroft Hall]. It's worked out for the best."
Note -- Right guard Antron Harper, who suffered a foot injury in last week's win against Duke, has practiced since Wednesday and is expected to start today. But Johnson said senior safety DuJuan Price might be done for the year. He has missed the past seven games with a pulled right quadriceps.