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Prior to Science Hill’s fifth football game, Mikey White wasn’t thinking about being a key part of the Hilltoppers’ offense down the stretch.
Instead he was possibly facing an early end to his junior season.
A serious hand injury wound up costing White four games, but he made up for lost time in big ways over the last two weeks. White caught a 26-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to start a dramatic Hilltoppers’ rally for their first win over the Indians since 1994.
The 6-2, 170-pound wide receiver followed that up by beating what should have been a deep-safe secondary for a 38-yard score on the final play before halftime in last week’s Class 6A playoff victory over Knox Farragut.
Next up for the Hilltoppers is a road game Friday against Sevier County. White will carry the momentum of a memorable two weeks into the second-round contest: 11 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
That’s not bad for a kid who was physically unable to play just a few weeks ago. White was warming up against Brentwood Academy in Week 5 when the injury occurred.
“I was running a route, and I stuck my hand up to stop the ball,” said White. “I couldn’t see it because of the sunlight. I thought I had stubbed my finger, and I just tried to shake it off.”
When White removed his glove, he said he knew it wasn’t something to shake off.
“I look at my finger, and I thought it was broken,” said White.
Instead it was a tendon injury. The tendon was completely dislocated, and it came out of the skin.
“It didn’t hurt, or I guess I didn’t feel the pain because I was in shock,” said White. “I was upset because I wasn’t going to be able to play with my teammates.”
At first, Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter said he thought it was a season-ending injury.
“We didn’t know if he would get to come back,” said Carter.
White went to Watauga Orthopaedics for an X-ray, and then tried to take his own feelings out of the picture.
“I rushed back to the field to support my teammates,” said White. “I wanted to be with them. I didn’t want to be selfish. I wanted to help the team; help the sophomores be game ready. If they needed help, I told them to come to me and I would help them.”
White had surgery the next morning. A pin was inserted into his finger, and he was placed in a splint. Once the stitches and pin were removed, White once again became a problem for opposing defensive backs.
But it took pregame warmups in Week 9 to get through the butterflies.
“Before the Daniel Boone game I was pretty nervous every time the ball was thrown to me,” said White. “I thought if it hit my hand, I might not catch it and the quarterback might not trust me. Then the first long pass they threw to me I said, ‘I’m good. I’m back now.’ ”
And better than ever, said Carter.
“After he got back, he has been tremendous,” Carter said. “He has gotten better each time. We knew he had potential.”
Going into the D-B game, White said he was feeling a little queasy after the pregame meal. But once he got on the bus, he turned to his calming ritual — instrumental music.
“I put my headphones on, and I wasn’t nervous,” said White. “I just wanted to play. I usually just listen to instrumentals to get me thinking and to calm me down.”
White certainly helped all of the Hilltoppers calm down with his big play against Farragut, which gave them a 42-28 lead at the break.
“It wasn’t a designed play for me,” said White. “I told the coach I should run 99, throw it up and I will get the ball.
“I was surprised when they came up in man coverage and didn’t have the cornerback deep. (Quarterback) Malik (McGue) saw one on one, and just threw it up there.”
The Hilltoppers might need a couple more of those from McGue and White as Sevier County boasts an offense that appears to be just as dangerous as Science Hill has. These teams have met before, and the Hilltoppers didn’t do so well in the spring scrimmage.
“We didn’t play as good as we should have in the scrimmage,” said White. “We didn’t show up.
“This time it’s going to take defense. We know we can score on offense, so our defense will have to stop them.”
Like other players, White is a veteran of the Science Hill system.
“Mikey has grown up in the program,” said Carter. “He grew up through the Junior ‘Toppers. He’s been around a while, and he’s been playing all the time.”
Part of what kept White involved was the presence of Carter.
“He showed us he cares about us,” said White. “That really helps us. It’s discipline and the little matters, not just the big things.
“As a player you really trust him. He helps in the community and makes you a better man. And once he does that, you trust him to help you win.”
After the football season, White said he’s not sure about basketball. Track is also in the future as he competed last year in the 300 hurdles and qualified for the sectional.
He’s holding the door open for college football.
“I’d like to play at the next level if I get the chance,” said White.