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Early career choice set up path to Outland for Randy White

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Early career choice set up path to Outland

One signature and maybe Randy White changes the course of his future.

Maybe he doesn’t go to play for Maryland and win the Outland Trophy.

Then White probably doesn’t land with the Dallas Cowboys, play in three Super Bowls, become a nine-time All-Pro and see his name on the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium and now AT&T Stadium.

There was $30,000 in it for White in 1971 had he signed a baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Two Phillies scouts were waiting with it after his final game for McKean High in Wilmington, Delaware.

“I thought, ‘Shoot, I’ll be rich for the rest of my life,’” White said.

White came from modest means as the son of a butcher who made $10,000 a year, grew up in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town and was a World War II veteran. And it was Guy White who let the Phillies know that Randy wasn’t signing.

“My dad told them, ‘He’s going to college and he’s going to play football,’ ” White said. “And that was it.”

White would go on to be an All-America defensive end for Maryland and win the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in 1974. White will be the former Outland winner honored Thursday night during the annual banquet at the Downtown Doubletree.

Outland winners before 1988 received only a plaque, so White said he was looking forward to his visit to Omaha and taking home the same trophy as 2015 recipient Joshua Garnett of Stanford.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but I’ll make room for it,” White said.

White played first base and pitched some in high school, and batted over .500 his junior and senior seasons. If there was a question mark, it was how he would hit the curveball as the pitching got better.

“You always think about do-overs, and if I could go back and play baseball and see if I would be successful,” White said. “Baseball was fun. I loved playing baseball.”

There was nothing to do over in football after White retired in 1988.

After spending his first two NFL seasons as a backup linebacker, the Cowboys moved White to defensive tackle and the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder went to nine straight Pro Bowls. White and Harvey Martin anchored the right side of the Dallas defensive front, and the two were co-MVPs of Super Bowl XII.

It’s hard for White to describe what being a member of that “Doomsday Defense” was like. Or playing for legendary coach Tom Landry and with teammates such as Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett.

“It was an honor to be part of that,” White said. “When you’re going through it, you don’t realize what a special time that is in your life. But those experiences stay with you for the rest of your life.

“It’s just hard to get those moments back. Winning a Super Bowl, the games you played in … nothing gives you that.”

White thought his NFL career would start in Baltimore, about 30 minutes from the Maryland campus and an hour from where he grew up. The Colts then traded the No. 1 pick to Atlanta the night before the 1975 draft, the Falcons took quarterback Steve Bartkowski and White was waiting for the Cowboys at No. 2.

“And all of a sudden I’m on a plane going to Dallas, Texas,” White said. “It was a change, but I had an opportunity to play professional football and, man, I was so happy. All I had seen of Texas was in movies, and I thought everybody wore cowboy hats and rode horses, and there’d be those things (tumbleweeds) blowing across the roads.”

And White still remembers one other benefit.

“I came down here and you could get Coors beer,” he said. “I took two cases back on the plane, took it to the dorm and we iced it down … and then it was gone in about 15 minutes.”

White logged 10 or more sacks in five seasons, including a career-high 16 in 1978. He missed one game in 14 NFL seasons, and finished that season playing with a broken foot — and a special-made shoe to protect it.

White once bench-pressed 450 pounds 10 times, and also was big into running and martial arts. Landry once said of White: “His performances range anywhere from spectacular to spectacular.”

That wasn’t the forecast for White coming out of high school.

Before the Phillies made their pitch, White said the only real football interest he got was from Maryland, Arizona State and Virginia Tech. And even that was lukewarm for a second-team, all-state pick.

When White and future Penn State and Chicago Bear defensive end Mike Hartenstine visited ASU, White said then-Sun Devils coach Frank Kush wasn’t there and was “out recruiting the good guys.” Former Maryland coach Roy Lester didn’t exactly overwhelm White with praise, either.

“He said, ‘We don’t know if you can play college football or not, but we’re going to give you a scholarship,’” White said. “I said, ‘Good, I’ll take it.’”

Lester was fired after his first season in College Park, and Jerry Claiborne moved White from fullback to defensive end after taking over. White was starting as a sophomore and eventually headed for his Outland.

“He turned that whole thing around,” White said of Claiborne. “I was just there at the right time with the right group of coaches.”

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