Slaton, White Together Again As WVU Hall Calls
Pat White remembers the moment he first came across his new teammate, Steve Slaton, well.
“He was running around the locker room picking with people and I was thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy and why is he so annoying?’” White said with a laugh the other day.
It was a trying start to a wonderful friendship, one that today lands both of them in the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame.
In truth, there was no other way for them to go in than together.
This was Frick and Frack, Laurel and Hardy (thought I was going to say Yanni, didn’t you?).
To West Virginia football, White and Slaton were everything that Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard were to Army when they were Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. They were like Montana and Rice with the 49ers, Csonka and Kiick with the Miami Dolphins, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham with the Steelers, Glavine and Maddux with the Atlanta Braves, Magic and Kareem with the Lakers.
Yes, even Ruth and Gehrig with the Yankees, for each was a home run hitter in his own right.
Why did this pairing work out so well?
“I think it was just the way we were brought up,” Slaton said. “Even though he was from Alabama and I’m from just outside Philadelphia, our core famiy values drew us together. He had a brother he was really close with, I had brothers I was really close with.
“Us being competitive and wanting to compete is another thing that bought us together.”
What is hard to imagine is that it almost didn’t happen.
White, you may recall, originally had committed to LSU and also had a baseball option, having been drafted in the fourth round of the MLB draft … and he would have gone higher had he not seemed certain to be heading to play college football.
So what got him to WVU?
He said it was the honesty that then-WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez and then-WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett showed while recruiting him.
“A lot of SEC schools that were recruiting me were, I think, selling me dreams,” White said. “They started off recruiting me as an athlete and then when other schools came in the picture and recruited me strictly as a quarterback, some of those other schools that were ‘athlete’ at first changed to ‘quarterback.’ For me, that was a red flag.
“There was a coach at LSU that told me, ‘Pat, our starting quarterback is too stupid to be our starter. You can come in next year and start over him.’ And I was like, ‘What? Really? That just came out of your mouth?’ … At the end of the day, it came down to who was the most honest — and shoutout to Rick Trickett … for his honesty.”
Meanwhile, Slaton had his own twisted path to WVU, having first been committed to Maryland until the Terps withdrew their scholarship offer late in the process.
“I would have been a Terp,” he admits. “It’s one of those things, I think things happen for a reason. The reason that happened was to put me in better position.
“You never know what would have happened had I gone anywhere else but my success at West Virginia is one of those things I was lucky enough to show what I had early on. That’s what I wanted to do, compete right away.”
That got the two of them together and White quickly got over his early thoughts about Slaton.
“We won a game,” White explained. “He probably picked at me until I said ‘All right Steve, I like you.’”
And he truly did.
“He can make a heavy-hearted room light-hearted,” is the way White put it.
Rodriguez, fully aware they held his future, broke them in slowly as freshmen. Slaton carried only in one of th e first four games, that against Wofford.
White played in every game but was backing up Adam Bednarik, showing what was to come against Wofford as he had his first 100-yard rushing game, gaining 107 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
Slaton emerged as a force against Virginia Tech, gaining 90 yards on 11 crries and catching a couple of passes, but it wasn’t until WVU fell behind Louisville, 24-7, entering the fourth quarter that the genie was let out of the bottle.
First, fate intervened with Bednarik going down with a leg injury, allowing White to take charge and he Slaton performed pure magic, bringing WVU back to a 46-44 triple-overtime victory in which Slaton gained 188 yards and scored 5 rushing touchdowns and another catching a pass while White took care of the point differential by hitting Dorrell Jaloh with the two-point conversion that would win the game.
“What I knew about Pat, knowing his skill set, knowing his abilities, I knew if you just gave him a chance he would be a special player,” Slaton said. “That’s what it was. Just getting into the game he sparked a whole new aspect of our game to where guys came around us.”
The two shattered WVU’s record book — Slaton rushing for 3,923 yards and 50 touchdowns with 65 catches for 805 more yards and 5 TD and White rushing for 4,480 yards — more than any college football quarterback ever had at the time — and 47 touchdowns while throwing for 6,049 more yards and 56 TDs.
Combined that is 15,257 yards and 158 touchdowns.
“It was a lot of things. We were hard workers. We had chips on our shoulders. We were all two star or three star recruits. That helped us accomplish our goals. It was the right mixture of the right people with talent, ability and competitiveness,” Slaton of himself, White and the teammates with whom they played.
They wound up winning four bowls, Slaton’s career high point being the Sugar Bowl his freshman year when he ripped Georgia apart for a record 203 rushing yards on 26 carries and 4 touchdowns and White winning four bowl games, including having a huge day against Oklahoma in maybe the most important game of WVU football history.
But if those were the highs, the low came against Pitt after they got to the verge of a national championship game, White being injured in the game as the Panthers, 28.5-point underdogs, sprung a devastating Backyard Brawl upset at WVU.
“Being so close to a national championship, it hurt,” said Slaton. “You watch it. We couldn’t make that one play to spark everything.”
To this day Slaton is upset with the play calling, the idea that he touched the ball only nine times and gained only 11 yards.
But as rough as that was, especially when he was injured on his first carry in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, the experience he had at WVU remains a highlight.
“Just being there, being able to play the game I love. The Sugar Bowl, that was probably my highest moment,” he said.
He doesn’t second-guess leaving a year early.
“I enjoyed the three years. At the end of the day, any decision a player makes is a business decision for him and his family. You can always be injured on one play, on the field or off the field,” he said.
So now he and White go into the Hall of Fame together … sort of.
“The only bad part of it is I won’t be there for the induction ceremony. I’ll be in season,” said White, now the quarterback coach at Alcorn State.