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June 1, 2021

Landry: White heads to Toronto for prime time

(Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

There can be no doubt about it, John White says. The cancelled 2020 CFL season came at a terrible time for him, professionally.

But, he’s quick to add, a year bereft of the physical ordeal of lugging a football into teeming masses of angry tacklers might just pay off for him — and the Toronto Argonauts — in the long run.

“It gave me time to get healthy,” White says, over the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s been busy launching a clothing line as well as working as a plumber for his father’s company. “I feel really good. It’s a blessing in disguise.”

It’s a blessing, too, he says, that he’s suiting up to play football again at all, considering the serious injuries he’s come back from during his CFL career.

“I’ve had a torn ACL and a torn Achilles,” White muses. “I should be done, you know?”

But John White is not done and you’d best not count him out just because he’s 30 years old, an age at which many observers like to conclude a running back is on the backside of the mountain, heading down the slope.

“When I get to Toronto, I’m here to keep it going,” White declares, brightly. Then he adds, with a chuckle: “And make them remember who I am.”

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White, seen here taking the handoff from QB Mike Reilly, had a career year with the Lions in 2019, breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time. He’ll look to add to that in 2021 with the Argos (CFL PHOTO – Geoff Robins )

That he’s an Argo is a little surprising. Many of us just assumed he’d remain a BC Lion, even after the lost season of 2020. He’d come off the best season of his entire professional career in 2019, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the first time (1,004 yards) and adding 341 more yards on receptions.

After a career that had seen him miss an entire season on one occasion (2015, with a ruptured Achilles) and almost an entire season on another (2017, with a torn ACL), White had put together a splendid year with the Lions and had been rewarded with a healthy deal for the 2020 campaign.

“Coming off a great season, I was actually given one of the bigger contracts that I’ve had,” says White, mindful of doing his best to provide for his family. “It kinda withered away,” he says, wistfully.

On the first day of free agency last February, the Lions signed Edmonton running back Shaq Cooper, while White agreed to terms with the Argos.

While awaiting a green light to circle a date on the calendar for the beginning of training camp, White had been putting in quite a few honest days of work with his dad’s plumbing company, doing some heavy-duty chores.

“Changing sewer lines,” he says, “water lines, doing remodels in bathrooms, everything.” Bonding with his father has been good, he adds, and so has learning the trade. “Pays well, too,” he laughs.

The clothing line, called SCVNGRS (Scavengers without the vowels) is fairly new and White has hopes for expansion. “I’m hoping to touchdown internationally with that,” he says, jovially, hinting that Toronto may serve as his foothold for that expansion.

Plumbing is hard work, so there has been a health benefit from that.

Beyond the job, White has been working out at home, like a lot of CFL players. Restrictions in L.A. meant the gyms were closed for long stretches and so a guy has to do things like install a chin-up bar in his house.

“Doing whatever I can to stay in shape,” he says.

All along, White tried not to think of the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 season.

“I just tried to stay steady on the pace that I’m on,” says White, who is now upping his game after getting word of mid-July as a target for training camps to open.

“Now I’m working out pretty heavy,” he explains, “but nothing too crazy. Just getting my legs underneath me and conditioning myself. Everything else will come.”

He expects that the forced time off will end up having been a benefit for him and that his body is now feeling completely refreshed.

“Everything’s gonna be good,” says White, who first turned heads as a rookie with Edmonton in 2013. “All in all, I feel as healthy as I did coming into the league.”

“But,” he offers, “there’s no conditioning like football conditioning. Once you get on the field, you work those muscles that you don’t normally work. Those reactive muscles. It’s a different kind of conditioning.”

A lot of us are wondering how a year-and-a-half without competition will affect the players as they head back into action. White, for instance, hasn’t had much in the way of football action at all, other than practicing his cuts in solitude, and having a buddy throw him some passes on occasion.

Of course, White has returned to action twice before following long layoffs, so he has the benefit of that experience to guide him.

“I don’t think it’ll feel weird,” he declares. “I think it’s muscle memory. I think it’ll be exciting more than anything. The juices are really gonna be flowing out there. Energy will be high. And I feel like it’s gonna be good for everybody.”

Feeling rested, refreshed and upbeat, the veteran running back is optimistic that when the time comes, he can pick up just where he left off when the 2019 season came to a close. “A healthy John White is a good John White, on the field,” he says.


White is the expected starting running back for the Argos this season, leading a talented group of players on a team that’s full of talent and big names (Photo: The Canadian Press)

At 30, White will step onto the field at Argos’ training camp as the oldest of the running backs the team has in its stable. “I feel like 30 is your prime, says White, who’ll be the favourite to emerge with the No. 1 job.

Toronto’s new running backs coach, Fred Reid, is enthusiastic about all of the prospective tailbacks that the Argos have on their roster.

Bishop Sankey, Matt Colburn, A.J. Ouellette, Kenneth Dixon,” says Reid, running down the list. “You mentioned John White. Those guys can play ball.”

“These guys are straight playmakers and good character guys,” says Reid, who played five seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, from 2007 to 2011. “I talk to ‘em often. I’m just excited.

“On paper, and in the film I’ve watched, they can get it done,” Reid continues. “I think we have one of the best backfields, going into camp, in the CFL.”

White has only spoken with Reid over the phone so far, but is anxious to get to work with the three-time CFL East all-star who, himself, rushed for close to 1,400 yards in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

“Having an actual running back as a coach, you kinda vibe on the same level,” says White.

A bruising but shifty ball carrier, Reid would likely have extended his CFL playing career beyond five seasons, had his own ACL injury not derailed him.

He’d been a very good back for the Bombers, coming in as the Charles “Blink” Roberts era was winding down. One night in 2009, Reid ripped the B.C. Lions for 260 rushing yards, a Winnipeg single-game record that still stands today.

“Can’t forget that,” says Reid. “That was one of the best nights of my life. I just was fortunate.”

Both White and Reid agree on what a running backs coach can do at the professional level. It has a lot to do with assignment-soundness, rather than how to, you know, run with the ball.

“Basically, fine-tuning technique, protections, awareness,” explains White. “Once you reach the professional leagues as a running back, everybody can run the ball.”

The difference?

“It’s who can be consistent within what they’re doing in the game,” says White.

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