Science Hill receiver Mikey White is catching on quickly at running back.
The Hilltoppers looked like they’ll be equally capable of traveling by land or air this season during Monday’s scrimmage against Sullivan South, and you could see — really quickly — that White is one of the primary reasons.
The ’Toppers have had impressive dual threats in the era of Stacy Carter’s crisply executed, up-tempo offense. Receiver-running back Ryan Mitchell and receiver-quarterbacks Reed Hayes and Malik McGue, among others, have presented many crowd-pleasing options for Carter, who appears to have his most athletic and versatile team yet this season.
McGue, the reigning Big Seven Conference player of the year, can beat teams running or throwing, and White appears primed to pile up yardage receiving and rushing now that he’ll spend at least some time complementing McGue in the backfield.
“We’re using him at running back, wide receiver — just everything — and he’s doing a tremendous job,” Carter said. “Mikey has looked exceptionally well at running back.”
White, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, also can catch the ball out of the backfield, something that’s been lacking in recent years.
"He's looking really good," McGue said. "Having him back there adds another dimension to our offense. I think he's surprised us with his production and willingness to play (running back). He ended last season on a very high note and seems to be carrying that moment into this season. Everyone should expect to see big things out of him this year."
White looked like a natural running the ball against South. He said he hasn’t played running back since playing for the Junior Toppers youth teams.
“During Junior Toppers is when I was, like, the big running back,” White said. “And after I got to middle school I started playing corner and receiver. This year, we didn’t have many running backs, so he (Carter) asked me and I tried it out during spring practice. And he said I ran pretty good. So I’ve been doing that for a little bit too (in addition to receiving).”
White lauded a Hilltoppers’ offensive line that is led by 6-foot-6, 260-pound left tackle Malcolm White.
“Our offensive line does really good at opening holes for us,” Mikey White said, “and then once we get past them it’s our job to make moves and get yardage.”
White indicated no preference between running back or receiver.
“It doesn’t really matter,” White said. “Wherever I can help the team is where I’ll play at. … It all depends on our formation.”
Carter and running backs coach Shorty Adams both praised White’s rushing skills this week, and each also noted this being the best team speed Science Hill’s had in recent memory.
White, McGue and Elijah Mathes are probably the three fastest Hilltoppers. Of course, injured players Trey Sutton and Malik Stephens should come back as good as new pretty soon, and Jordan Holly and Marcus Patton are among a number of other ’Toppers that run well.
White mentioned the versatility Science Hill has with McGue and Justin Bedard at quarterback. Although he doesn’t have McGue’s exceptional quickness, Bedard is plenty athletic and catches spectators’ eyes running around making throws. He’s also now 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, and looks capable of punishing would-be tacklers as easily as making them miss.
“Malik’s at quarterback, receiver; Justin’s at halfback, quarterback,” White said. “We can just make big plays every way we go. … I feel pretty good that we can match up with any team. We have skill players everywhere. You can’t focus on one player. It’s like every player can make a big play.”
White missed four games with a hand injury last season, but shined when the lights were brightest. His 26-yard touchdown catch on a throw from McGue with 5:17 remaining at Dobyns-Bennett got Science Hill within 24-21 in what turned out to be a 34-24 Hilltoppers victory, which snapped a 19-game losing streak in the series.
“On the way back from Kingsport we were saying we can’t sleep (tonight),” White said. “We were on the bus cheering. All the way back there was not a calm moment. We got in the locker room, the coaches were cheering and everybody was happy. … And the next morning you read the newspaper, and you’re like ‘Did that really happen.’ It felt so good.”
Despite missing four games, White, who also plays defensive back, led the Hilltoppers in receiving yardage (402) and TD receptions (five). His 19 catches were second on the team. Two of his six rushing attempts went for scores.
He caught a 38-yard TD pass on the final play of the first half in a first-round playoff win against Farragut.
It was the lone playoff victory last season for Science Hill, which hasn’t exactly had a postseason run since reaching the quarterfinals in 1993.
But Science Hill’s postseason prospects appear to be in good hands with White, who is eager to make a history-making postseason run.
“We want to make history,” White said. “It’s just whatever I can do to help the team win. We’re trying to go far since this is our last year.”