USC’s thunder and lightning backfield is no more.
LenDale White, who combined with fellow junior Reggie Bush to form one of the greatest running back duos in USC history, will take his talents to the NFL after winning two national championships and falling just short of a third.
White, as expected, announced Wednesday in Denver that he would make himself available for the April draft rather than return for a final season of eligibility.
Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner, is expected to do the same at a news conference on campus today.
“It wasn’t a slam-dunk decision at all,” White said during a televised news conference. “For me the hardest thing, whether people believe it or not, was to leave my family at USC. Those guys have taught me so much.”
Coach Pete Carroll learned of White’s final decision Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he praised a player who finished his career by rushing for 124 yards and three touchdowns against Texas in the Rose Bowl.
“We obviously hate to see LenDale go, but we understand and we wish him the best of luck,” Carroll said in a statement.
Carroll said the 6-foot-2, 235-pound White, who rushed for 3,159 yards and scored 57 touchdowns in three seasons, would be an “outstanding” NFL player.
“He has the entire package for a big running back: power, physicality, speed, toughness. Whatever team drafts him will get a productive player who should be in the league for a long time,” Carroll said.
White and Bush combined with quarterback Matt Leinart and a corps of talented receivers and offensive linemen to give USC one of the most prolific offenses in college football history. The Trojans averaged 50 points and a nation-leading 580 yards a game during the 2005 regular season.
The powerful White and the flashy Bush combined for 6,328 career rushing yards and an NCAA record 99 touchdowns, eclipsing the mark of 97 set by Army’s Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard in 1943-46.
“He provided the physical power and mentality that softened up defenses,” Carroll said of White. “And when he got near the goal line you knew nothing would stop him from scoring.”
In 2005, White rushed for 1,302 yards, Bush 1,740, the first time in USC history that two running backs rushed for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
“It’s unfortunate that it kind of has to end this way, but I think that guys are ultimately doing what’s best for themselves and their family,” White said during a conference call with reporters after his announcement. “Me playing with Reggie was probably the best time of my life. Just seeing how competitive he was and his competitive spirit brought it out of me. I’m just happy I could play with someone as good as Reggie Bush.”
Bush, who has rushed for 3,169 career yards, had similar feelings for White.
“I’m happy for him and I know it’ll work out for him,” Bush said in a statement. “I’m behind him 100%. He’s like my brother. It was an honor having him as a teammate.”
White, 21, said he made his announcement in Denver because his grandmother is hospitalized and he wanted to be near family. He also said that he received good grades during the fall and that having to attend classes did not factor into his decision to turn pro.
“I just felt it was time to help my family,” he said.
White consulted with several family members, including his cousin, Detroit Piston guard Chauncey Billups. He also spoke briefly with Carroll, Leinart and Bush.
“I told him, ‘You can come back and be up for the Heisman, rush for 2,000 yards or whatever,’ but with what he’s done the last three years, there’s really nothing left for him to do on the football field,” said Leinart, the 2004 Heisman winner who passed up a chance to turn pro last year and returned for a final season. “He ran all over a great defense in the Rose Bowl.
“I told him I would support him no matter what he decided.”
USC players were not surprised by White’s decision to turn pro and said that they would miss him.
“He brought a lot of character,” sophomore tight end Fred Davis said. “He was always the most talkative, so practice was always interesting. It’s going to be a lot different not having to hear his mouth. He was great.”
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who will compete with John David Booty to replace Leinart, said the Trojans would miss White’s bruising running style, but pointed out that his departure would “open up some doors for recruits.”
USC has received a verbal commitment from running back Emmanuel Moody of Coppel, Texas, and is pursuing Dorsey’s Stafon Johnson among others.
The Trojans will have several tailbacks return, but nearly all will be coming off surgery.
Hershel Dennis started every game in 2003 but did not play this season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last January. Desmond Reed had surgery in November after tearing knee ligaments against Notre Dame. Freshman Michael Coleman had hip surgery Wednesday.
Chauncey Washington, who arrived at USC in the same recruiting class with White and Bush, was academically ineligible the last two seasons and is also ineligible for spring practice.
Several other draft-eligible players are still pondering as Sunday’s deadline for declaring for the draft approaches. Junior flanker Steve Smith will return, but offensive linemen Winston Justice and Fred Matua and safety Darnell Bing have not announced their decisions.