East Lansing, Mich. — Some see two colors in the Heisman Trophy picture this season: brown and green. That is, brown as in flanker Tim Brown of Notre Dame and green as in tailback Gaston Green of UCLA. But a third color in the Heisman rainbow could be white, as in tailback Lorenzo White of Michigan State.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because White was fourth in the Heisman voting as a record-setting sophomore in 1985. That made him the pre-season favorite for college football's top individual honor a year ago, but his campaign never got off the ground because of injuries.
Now, however, White is back for his senior season and running hard again. ``I missed a whole year ... I feel like I have something to prove,'' he says.
In MSU's opening victory over nationally rated Southern Cal, White ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, on his way passing such players as O.J. Simpson, one of USC's own Heisman Trophy winners, on the all-time NCAA career rushing list. The Spartans ran into two of the nation's top teams the next two weeks, losing to Notre Dame and Florida State as White was held to a total of 135 yards.
To be a top contender, White will have to step up the pace - which could happen. One thing in his favor will be the schedule, which, while still tough, won't continue sending the Spartans against ``the iron'' week after week. And his past feats show that the potential is there.
White, the Florida high school player of the year in 1983, became a starter near the end of his freshman season at MSU. As a sophomore, he set an NCAA record with 1,908 yards, a figure which had been exceeded only three times in college football history - by seniors Marcus Allen of USC, Mike Rozier of Nebraska and Tony Dorsett of Pitt, all Heisman Trophy winners in those season.
Undoubtedly, Lorenzo would have had a shot at the trophy had he been an upperclassman. But the Heisman voters have historically refrained from honoring sophomores - apparently feeling that their turn will come later, which sometimes doesn't happen.
White's 1986 campaign is an example. First he sustained a knee injury. Later it was an ankle. In the end he gained only a few more yards than he had as a freshman - and nowhere near his 1985 total.
He looks strong again this year, though, and he has the explosiveness to vault into contention with a couple of spectacular games. Consider, for example, that a goal for many runners is to get 100 yards in a game - and that four times in his career Lorenzo has gained that much within a single quarter.
But all of this is secondary to White.
``I'm a team player first,'' he says. ``If I have a choice of gaining 100 yards or a Michigan State win, I'd go with the win.
``Not to perform really hurts me,'' he adds. ``When things were going badly [last year] and I wasn't able to contribute, it was the worst kind of feeling. Being on the sidelines was like a real bad dream.''
So bad, in fact, that White remembers once watching his teammates take the field and starting to join them, until he remembered he was not in uniform.
``In all my years of coaching, I've never met a man with that much ability who is that humble,'' said MSU coach George Perles. ``It's hard to imagine a young guy getting that much publicity being that humble.''
White may get the recognition Perles and others think he deserves if the Spartans can meet the goal he has set for them this season: a Rose Bowl appearance. The Big Ten portion of the schedule begins Saturday, and White feels his team has a shot at the title and the Rose Bowl berth that goes with it.
``If you set high goals, it gives you something to work for,'' he says.
And his personal goals?
``I have one hard goal,'' he said. ``A lot of people say I can't do it, but I've put it into my head to do it.''
That goal is to break Marcus Allen's one-year NCAA rushing record of 2,342 yards. That's nearly 450 yards more than White gained in his sensational sophomore season.
White said he has that goal in mind every time he carries the ball and that the goal will help propel him late in a game when he might be tired.
``It's my senior year,''White said. ``I've got to forget the junior year. I've got to forget the sophomore year. I've got to deal with what's going on right now. I want to go out a winner.''