Kyzir White Carving Out His Own Legacy
By Brian McCracken
As some of you probably know, living up to a family name can be a difficult task. When your brother becomes a top 10 pick in the NFL draft, it’s downright arduous.
But after just one season, it looks like Kyzir White is carving out a nice legacy of his own at West Virginia University; something that’s tough to do when following in the footsteps of two older brothers who have played pretty well in their own right.
White, who is one of seven children (four of whom are Division I athletes), points to the competitive fire that his father, Kevin, Sr., instilled in them at a young age when asked about the family’s athletic successes.
“The competition really starts with my dad,” explained the Mountaineers’ senior safety. “He’s the most competitive person I have ever met. He is even competitive with my mom; they will compete to see who can cook the best. That is handed down to me, my brothers and my sisters.”
So whenever the Whites get together, you can imagine there are some spirited discussions about both the cooking and who holds the title of best athlete in the household.
“We argue about (who is the most athletic) a lot,” chuckled Kyzir. “Kevin has the upper hand right now, only because he got drafted seventh.
“I’m always going to say I’m better, and Ka’Raun is going to say he’s the best. We all like each other’s game and it’s competitive, but it’s all in good nature.”
Ka’Raun, who is WVU’s top returning receiver having hauled in 48 passes for 583 yards last year, has a pretty good argument too. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound senior grabbed touchdown receptions in three straight contests before breaking his leg in the 11th game of the season last year.
Regardless of who concludes their career with the most accolades, it’s hard to argue that West Virginia has had a better family connection in recent memory (only the Bulgers come to mind).
Like older brothers Ka’Raun and Kevin, Kyzir made the transition from Emmaus High in Macungie, Pa., to Lackawanna College, a junior college and football factory located in Scranton, Pa.
And it was at Lackawanna where the 6-foot-2, 218-pound defensive back really started to make a name for himself. While both of his brothers excelled at the receiver position, Kyzir was earning a reputation as an intimidating, hard-hitting safety who punished anyone who dare come across the middle. But despite his strength and physicality, he almost exclusively played outside of the box and several yards off of the ball at Lackawanna.
After picking up commitments from his older brothers in previous seasons, West Virginia’s coaching staff was cognizant about Kyzir’s abilities early and began the recruiting process before any other Power 5 programs. With the impending graduation of K.J. Dillon after the 2015 season, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson saw the potential for an immediate fix at the spur position.
For those that don’t know the nuts and bolts of Gibson’s 3-3-5 scheme, the spur safety could be the most important spot on the defense. A safety/linebacker combo, the spur is required to wreak havoc in the run game and play close to the line almost as often ashe is required to drop back in coverage and defend slot receivers. In other words, it’s somewhat of a wild card that requires both superior speed and strength.
White happens to possess both of those abilities with a high football IQ to boot, so it comes as no surprise that he was a highly coveted recruit coming out of junior college. In fact, he was higher rated by most recruiting services than either of his brothers. His recruitment came down to three schools – Penn State, USC and West Virginia. But at the end of the day familiarity and proximity won out and made the Mountaineers the easy choice come national signing day.
“I kept my options open but all along it was going to be West Virginia,” admitted White. “Taking a trip to USC was fun, but it was too far away from home. My mom didn’t really like that.”
In fall camp last year, he showed the same flash and play-making ability that made him so highly sought after to begin with. While many had already anointed him the day-one starter at the spur, Gibson made it known that he had to compete and beat out more experienced players in order to crack the starting lineup.
“I know I have to work for everything I get. That’s something that my parents have told me since I was little,” noted White, a multi-disciplinary studies major. “Gibbie told me that I wasn’t guaranteed anything, that I would have to compete for the position but the opportunity would be there to play right away when I got to West Virginia. That’s one of the reasons I came here. I only had two years to play, so that was really big to me.”
When the Mountaineers took the field against Missouri in the 2016 season opener, Kyzir had cemented himself as the starter– a pretty impressive feat when you consider how new he was to the 3-3-5 and that he had never played so close to the line of scrimmage.
Looking back, White remembers being surprised at just how fast the pace of play was from the get go. That was especially true against Missouri, which ran a no-huddle offense for the majority of the afternoon and dashed off 100 plays against the Mountaineers.
“At first, I don’t want to say playing in the 3-3-5 was weird, but it was different,” admitted White. “I was out of my comfort zone, but as the time went along, I grew more comfortable with the system.
“In the opener I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing the entire time,” he added. “It was around the fourth game of the season that I really got comfortable. Looking back on film, I think I could have been playing a little faster in those first few games, and I made some minor mistakes.”
Minor being the key word, because White was still routinely in the right position and in the backfield of opposing offenses. As the year progressed, so did White’s play. He wound up with 58 tackles and four sacks to go along with five pass breakups. It seemed as if he was making at least one bone-crunching hit every single game – almost reminiscent of another safety who wore No. 8 for the Mountaineers (Karl Joseph).
That all culminated at Texas, when Kyzir came off the edge unblocked and completely leveled Longhorn quarterback Shane Buechele, forcing a fumble and creating a clip that will live in YouTube lore for quite some time. The turnover proved huge in West Virginia’s 24-20 victory in Austin.
With a year under his belt and a much better understanding of the system, White wants to deliver more of the same in 2017. While attrition has hit WVU’s defense, the safety position looks as strong as ever, and White in particular has found himself on numerous preseason all-conference teams and watch lists.
“I am a lot better mentally and physically,” he said. “Just having a year of experience definitely helped my game a lot more. I’m around the guys and in the system, so I feel a lot better.”
But even with the added comfort and notoriety, White’s focus remains on competiveness, hard work and discipline, the same values instilled by his father years ago.
“I just have to buy in,” Kyzir explained. “I think if I play tough, fast and physical, everything will take care of itself.”
This story was part of the recent issue of the Blue & Gold News. You can purchase a subscription to the Blue & Gold News magazine and the website, BlueGoldNews.com, at https://bluegoldnews.com/membership-account/membership-levels/