Michigan State's Cody White won't let pandemic's hurdles detour route to NFL

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It wasn’t that long ago that Cody White was catching passes from Brian Lewerke, helping Michigan State cap the 2019 season with a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl.

A few months later, White is on the field at Walled Lake Western High catching passes from his sister.

“I’m trying to teach her to throw a spiral,” White said with a laugh. “She’s doing her best, though.”

Cody White caught 143 passes for 1,967 yards in 12 TDs in his three years at Michigan State.

That’s the reality for so many athletes these days. As the sports world has come to a screeching halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it has forced those who make their living in the games — and those who aspire to make a living — to come up with different ways to remain engaged both physically and mentally.

White falls in the category of an athlete who is aspiring to make a living on the field. After finishing his junior season at Michigan State as the Spartans’ leading receiver, White opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.

Everything was going smoothly once White made his choice. He headed to Florida to work out at IMG Academy in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of February. He performed well.

“I broad jumped the furthest I've ever jumped and I (had my best) vertical jump as well,” White said. “So my measurables were at the top of the charts with everybody else, with my height, my weight, my body fat, and just all the measurable part of it. And then the way that I ran routes, like I did a great job coming in and out of breaks, showing them that I'm a big guy but I could run excellent routes as well.

“So in that capacity, I feel like those were the best parts of the combine for me.”

For a player that finished his three seasons at Michigan State with 143 receptions for 1,967 yards and 12 touchdowns, the path to a sure-fire draft pick had been well established.

Then, just like that, everything stopped.

With Pro Day at Michigan State canceled, White headed back home with mom and dad in Novi wondering what the next step would be but feeling optimistic.

“My first reaction was that it was a little bit disappointing,” White said. “But I knew that how I performed at the combine was really, really good. So I knew that it wasn't going to hurt me in any way not having a pro day and not being able to the things I wanted to do at pro day, because I felt like I did everything that I wanted to do at the combine.”

It was enough, along with his career at Michigan State, to put White on the radar of all 32 NFL teams, many of which he spoke with at the combine. But he’s not taking any chances, so when he’s not working out at home or up at the field at his alma mater, White is busy staying in contact with as many teams as possible.

“It’s kind of just different for everybody,” White said. “Not being able to really train the way that we want to before we were quarantined and not having a pro day is difficult. Not being able to go visit the teams is difficult, but we've got to overcome it. There's ways to do it with FaceTime calls and sending stuff out to the coaches that you've met with, just trying to get that image of yourself out as well as you can to teams to let them know who you are as a person and a football player.”

When it comes to letting teams know who he is as a person, White has leaned heavily on his father, Sheldon.

Before Sheldon White was a part of Mark Dantonio’s staff the past three years at Michigan State he had a long career in the NFL, spending six seasons as a player and then nearly two decades as a scout and front-office executive with the Detroit Lions, including serving as interim general manager for a time in 2015.

“Since I was in high school he has been teaching me ways to answer questions and how people would like to hear the questions, teach me the right way of how to be a professional,” Cody White said. “That is due mostly to him and what he's taught me and how I've just shaped that into who I am as a person. Being able to put that together, I feel like he really shaped that part of me.”

While White does his best catching passes from both his sister and his dad, he’s been creating his own workouts at home, too. From checking out YouTube videos to referencing workouts from before the combine, White has developed a routine that he follows five to six days a week.

He doesn’t have the same amount of weights he would at an actual gym, so he makes modifications.

“I’ve been doing everything that I was doing during my training, just getting the right amount of running and wide receiver work,” he said. “And I've been doing different types of stuff like a lot of push-ups, a lot of sit-ups, lot of ab-type stuff, planks, things of that nature. And then with the weights that I have, I mostly just do higher reps.”

For now, the NFL Draft is still on. So, for the next few weeks, this will be White’s routine.

There are no regrets, he says. He knows some wonder why he left Michigan State a year early, but for him, it’s about chasing something he’s always wanted.

“It's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” White said. “Going to games and my dad, he always took me before the games into the locker with the Detroit Lions and onto the field before the games. We used to play catch and just seeing the guys warm up and just being able to be around them and practice and stuff like that.

“It's always been a dream of mine to be at this level and playing NFL.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau