October 19, 2010 8:26:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Judging by Mississippi State linebacker Chris White''s glowing stat line Saturday against then-No. 22 University of Florida, you''d think he''d been playing middle linebacker all his life.
Assumptions are risky, but in White''s case it''s considered a compliment.
The senior, who played defensive end in high school, moved to middle linebacker in the offseason.
He had just come off a stellar 2009 season as starting weak-side ''backer in which he finished third on the team with 75 tackles and four tackles for a loss.
Those statistics pale in comparison to what White has done this season, as he leads the team in tackles, tackles for a loss, and sacks.
In MSU''s 10-7 win against Florida in Gainesville, Fla., White showed how comfortable he has become playing linebacker under first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
White registered 11 tackles, four and a half tackles for a loss, and two and a half sacks and earned Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor, the league announced Monday.
It was business as usual for White.
"Just going into the game with the mind-set I''m gonna try to play the best I can, and running to the ball as hard as I can," White said. "Just trying to play hard, really."
Though not the most vocal of the four senior captains, White''s play provides the example Diaz and coach Dan Mullen need, especially since the team will have a new trio of starting linebackers next season.
Amazingly, Mullen said White is still growing into the position.
"He (White) hasn''t played linebacker since pee-wee football," Mullen said. "I think you''re seeing that comfort come up. But he''s a talented player, so when he sees things he can get to the ball in a hurry and disrupt plays. Playing middle linebacker you have to lead by example and have that leadership presence on the field."
White, who transferred from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2009, is second in the SEC with 12 tackles for negative yardage. He also is tied for second in the league with five sacks.
He said the position switch allows him to make plays over a greater range, but confidence has been the key.
"It''s a mind-set thing," he said. "If you want to go in there and make some plays, you can. Confidence is a real good thing to have if you want to play well. That''s for any athlete."
White''s teammate, weakside linebacker K.J. Wright, has received most of the defensive attention as mid-round NFL prospect. While Wright has enjoyed a good season in his first year at a new position, he admits White has been more vital to the unit''s success.
"He''s the leader of our defense, getting everybody lined up," Wright said. "He''s just a baller. His last two years, he''s been playing real good. At the mike position, it gives you the opportunity to make a bunch of tackles and a bunch of sacks. That''s what he''s doing."
MSU''s scheme, which utilizes blitzes and pressure from multiple levels, has contributed to the increase in White''s production, but it also has made his job equally difficult.
"The faster you play the less stuff you see," White said. "The slower you play, the more stuff you see. You kind of got to find that median where you can see stuff and also play fast.
"It''s kind of hard to read the offense when you''re playing so fast. It''s kind of good to play slow at first, but whenever you see something going on, go there at full speed."