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White wants a ring, not a trophy

8/20/2004

The trophy just sort of sits there, proudly positioned atop his parents' fireplace where everyone else stares at it. But the trophy winner himself, Jason White, ignores it.

Someday, he'll take a look. Maybe when his senior season is over. Maybe when he slips a national championship ring over his finger. Or maybe when his critics stop saying the wrong guy won.

Until then, as White sees it, the 2003 Heisman Trophy presentation may as well have never happened.

"I know what it looks like," said White, just the eighth player since 1935 -- the first since Ty Detmer in 1990 -- to return to school a Heisman Trophy winner. "But I don't even look at it. That's behind me. There's still work to do. There are still goals to accomplish."

Make that singular -- goal. The Oklahoma quarterback ignored the opportunity to enter the NFL draft this spring so he could return to school to win a national title. Forget the idea of joining Archie Griffin as the only player to win two Heismans. Forget dreams of posting gaudy passing numbers and stamping his place in college football history. White just wants to finish last season's unfinished business and carry the Sooners to their second national title in four years.

"His Heisman is tucked away for a reason," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's set his sights on a winning championship. He -- and the rest of our team -- would cash in all the individual awards to earn a championship."

Last year, White was on pace to do both. In the regular season, he set an Oklahoma record by throwing 40 touchdowns. He threw for over 3,500 yards. Not only did he win the Heisman, but he was the Associated Press, Sporting News and Sports Illustrated Player of the Year. He quarterbacked a team that some believed was the best ever in college football, a seemingly invincible bunch that was the No. 1 team in the country for 13 straight weeks.

Until disaster struck. In the Big 12 championship against Kansas State, White broke a bone in his right (throwing) wrist and coughed up two interceptions. A month later, on the first play from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl against LSU, he broke a bone in his left foot, eventually completing just 13-of-37 attempts with two more interceptions.

The team that many thought was a sure-thing to win the 2003 national championship finished third in the final season rankings. Almost immediately, the criticism of White began.

"Sure, you hear it," White said. "But you've got to block that sort of stuff out."

Said Stoops: "Everybody wants to talk about those last two games. But he remembers those other 12, too. They didn't just fade from his memory."

Now, the reigning Heisman winner finds himself fighting for respect. While he's on every Heisman preseason list, there aren't many saying he'll become the second two-time Heisman winner. He was left off most preseason All-American lists, not even earning unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors (instead he shares them with Missouri's Brad Smith).

"Last year, nobody knew I'd be on those lists at the end of the season, either," White said. "But I'm sure I'm not the only guy left off the All-American list who will be on it at the end."

But none of that matters. Not if he's the one holding the national championship trophy above his head at the FedEx Orange Bowl on January 4.

"Team goals," White said. "That's truly all I care about. That's all any of us care about. The ultimate team goal."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.