The 2022 NFL Draft is loaded with talented ball-carriers, and South Carolina's ZaQuandre White qualifies as one of the most intriguing do-it-all prospects at the position. White has traveled a winding road to the draft, from an exciting beginning at Florida State to Iowa Western Community College before wrapping up his collegiate career at South Carolina. All along the way, thanks to his unshakable confidence and tireless work ethic, White continues to prove the doubters wrong. White recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his unique experiences, the biggest difference between JUCO and D-I, what allowed him to average 6.6 yards per carry in 2021, his abilities as a pass-catcher, and so much more. JM: It’s been quite the journey for you to get where you are today. You went from Florida State to the JUCO ranks, at Iowa Western Community College, before returning to the D-I level with South Carolina. I want to start with your experience of going from FSU to JUCO. Did you initially experience any culture shock? ZW: You go from having everything to nothing really. At the D-I level, you have a meal plan, the necessary equipment, and every resource medically. That’s probably the only part of the transition that was shocking. You don’t have those resources at your disposal at the JUCO level. We had to buy our own cleats and gloves. You really feel like you’re on your own. That was the biggest shock for me. JM: What did that experience teach you about hard work? ZW: It showed me that nothing is guaranteed. I had to go out there and prove that I really wanted it. Like I said, I was buying my own cleats. I had to ask my mom and dad for financial help. Nothing is guaranteed to you at the JUCO level. You have to work hard for every inch. JM: What are some of the other differences you noticed? ZW: A lot of the kids are humbler and hungrier at JUCO. We’re all in the same situation and everything is trying to get themselves out of that situation. You’re always thinking about how you can get back to D-I, and hard work is the only path forward. I understood the differences because I went from D-I to JUCO. Somebody that goes straight to JUCO might not understand the differences. My experience and my point of view were a bit more well-rounded. I’ve been exposed to both. JM: That totally makes sense. You clawed your way back to D-I via hard work and you finished the right way. You averaged 6.6 yards per carry at South Carolina in 2021. You were so dynamic with the ball in your hands this past season. What changed for you in 2021? ZW: I realized that I wasn’t going to play college football forever. That’s what changed for me. My time was ticking. I looked at myself in the mirror and I came to that realization. I know what I want to do with my life, and that’s play professional football. I’ve always wanted to play football at the highest level imaginable. I got myself back to a top program and I realized my dreams were capable of coming true again. I locked in and focused every single day. I knew that it was my last year playing college football. JM: We appreciate you sharing your story with us. It’s unique and captivating. You began your collegiate career by playing a little linebacker at Florida State. How did those defensive experiences make you a smarter running back? ZW: It made me a better running back because those experiences made me key in on the defensive details. I’m familiar with the small details linebackers look for in running backs, little tells and whatnot. It definitely made me a more impactful ball-carrier. I have a better understanding of gaps and how defensive linemen go about their business in the run game. It helps me process things quicker. It allows me to string together moves quicker because I understand what’s coming. I know what defenses are trained to do. JM: That makes a ton of sense. What’s your favorite aspect of playing the running back position? ZW: I just love having the ball in my hands. Besides the quarterback, we touch the ball the most on offense. That’s a lot of fun to me. It creates a lot of opportunities for us to make a huge impact on the outcome of the game. I know my team is depending on me when I have the ball in my hands. That’s the best feeling. That’s my favorite aspect of playing the position. JM: You made a terrific impact in the passing game as well. You’re a natural pass catcher. How important is that versatility for a running back in today’s pass-happy league? ZW: It’s extremely important in today’s game. I never want to just be a first-and-second down kind of back. I don’t want my team to ever feel like they have to take me out of the game. I’m not that guy that can’t catch the ball or play in pass protection. I can do it all. I understand what it takes to be a three-down back. It goes beyond that. I want my team to trust me on fourth down when we need to move the chains. That’s a quality you need in today’s game. It’s a pass-happy league like you said. I’ve worked hard to get my hands to a place where I’m a natural hands catcher. JM: I’m curious which running backs you enjoyed watching growing up? ZW: Barry Sanders is someone that as I got older I watched a lot of film on. He’s the greatest ball-carrier of all time, so I’ve tried to implement some of his tendencies into my game. I’m blown away by his agility and vision. JM: He’s a hell of a player to study and learn from. What would you say are your best traits as a ball-carrier? ZW: I think my decision-making comes first and foremost. I feel great about my instincts, I don’t think too many players can match my instincts with the ball in my hands. I can string moves together in the open field. I would point out my explosiveness as well. I can hit the hole with patience before showcasing the necessary burst to create an explosive play. Barry Sanders used to hit those home run plays, too. I think those traits place me in a different category. JM: We see it on tape. I’ve really appreciated your time today. What kind of impact is ZaQuandre White going to make at the next level? ZW: I feel like I’m an underdog in this draft class. I consider myself one of those sleeper running backs. The world will be hearing about me soon enough. I’m going to make a big impact. I’m ready to let my game do the talking. I can’t wait to make my presence felt.
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