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After a curveball, Mike White goes from South Florida baseball prospect to Dolphins QB

Mike White’s classes at the Davie University School were so close to the Dolphins’ former practice facility at Nova Nova Southeastern University that he could hear the blaring music when the team was simulating crowd noise.

He’s a Dolphins fan through and through — his first jersey as a kid was Ronnie Brown’s. In a recent post to his Instagram story, he shared a photo of him as a toddler, sitting in a lawn chair outside of what was then called Joe Robbie Stadium and now Hard Rock Stadium.

And after signing a two-year deal, White, a Pembroke Pines native, is back in South Florida as the Dolphins’ newest quarterback in a homecoming he called “the perfect storm.”

It also makes for a fun story for White, who in his introductory news conference on Wednesday acknowledged playing football professionally wasn’t in his sights until his senior year of high school.

“My goals were the MLB and then I kind of caught on late with football and was a late bloomer,” White, 27, said on a Zoom call. “... It never crossed my mind that this could be an opportunity. So, it’s pretty funny looking back at it.”

While aspiring college football players would go to camps and tournaments during the summer, White competed with Elite Squad, a travel baseball program based in Miami. As a junior, he received first-team All-Broward honors from the Miami Herald as a pitcher, going 9-2 with a 0.43 ERA. By his senior year, White said his pitches were topping out at 93 mph.

“Tall, lanky guy,” White said. “I think I was 180 pounds, soaking wet. I could throw four pitches pretty much wherever I wanted: fastball, changeup, slider, curve[ball].”

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 8: QB, Mike White of University School celebrates the schools defeat of Madison County for the Class 3A state championship, Saturday, December 8, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by RobertoGonzalezPhoto.com)
ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 8: QB, Mike White of University School celebrates the schools defeat of Madison County for the Class 3A state championship, Saturday, December 8, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by RobertoGonzalezPhoto.com)

White didn’t play much on the football field in his first three high school seasons. But then a curveball that even he couldn’t have envisioned appeared: a “tremendous” growth spurt, his high school football coach Roger Harriott recalled, during the spring of his junior year took him from “maybe 6 foot” to his current 6-4 frame. And it coincided with the opportunity to start as a senior, which he seized.

“He was a great baseball player,” said Harriott, now the head football coach at St. Thomas Aquinas. “We all thought that was going to be his focus ... he just kind of developed over the course of a few months and had a tremendous year.”

Said White: “College coaches would come in and they can say they like me after watching our practice. But there was no film to go off of, so they couldn’t pull the trigger on an offer. ... Once I caught a hang of it and had some success with it, I fell in love with it. And I’m really happy with my decision.”

In his lone high school season as a starter, White led University School to its first state title, and he was named Broward County Player of the Year and a first-team All-Broward pick by the Herald. White committed to the University of South Florida, where he played his first two college seasons, and transferred to the University of Western Kentucky, where he was a two-year starter and earned Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honors as a senior.

Former University School quarterback Mike White leads Western Kentucky against Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU on Tuesday night.
Former University School quarterback Mike White leads Western Kentucky against Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU on Tuesday night.

The Cowboys selected White in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft and he spent one season in Dallas before being cut right before the start of the 2019 season.

“I kind of took it for granted and didn’t really stay mentally locked in,” White said. “So, when it was time to compete for the [backup position], I didn’t feel as prepared as I should and I learned from that mistake and I tried to keep that learning experience with me throughout my entire career.”

White quickly joined the Dolphins’ divisional rival, the New York Jets, and spent his first two seasons primarily on the practice squad. Like his time as a senior at University School, when he got his chance to start, he made the most of it. Replacing an injured Zach Wilson during the 2021 season, White threw for 405 yards — the most by a first-time starter since 2011 — in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

“He’s the epitome of staying the course and trusting the process and being persistent in what you want to accomplish in life,” Harriott said. “... He’s not the fastest, he’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest. But he’s calculated.”

White started six more games in 2021 and 2022 with performances that were filled with peaks and valleys amid New York’s dysfunction. But he emerged as a favorite of the Jets’ fanbase and the locker room; teammates wore shirts with his image and “Mike F’n White” emblazoned on the front before one of his starts.

“He’s an absolute competitor, an absolute warrior, a guy you want to go to war with, you want in your dog hole,” said wide receiver Braxton Berrios, one of three former Jets to join the Dolphins in free agency, along with offensive lineman Dan Feeney.

As free agency was set to open, White was interested in the Dolphins — and not just because of the chance to return home. There was the proximity to Tampa, where he lives now with his wife and two children. Familiarity with the offense — “down to its core, it’s from the same system” — and the AFC East.

White said his job as the backup will be to “support the guy,” in this case, Tua Tagovailoa, and foster a healthy, competitive environment alongside Skylar Thompson.

The last time White had an opportunity to play at Hard Rock Stadium, he was sidelined from the 2022 season finale because of a rib injury he fought through in previous weeks. “I thought it would have been really, really cool to have all my family out and play in a stadium I grew up going to,” he said.

The Dolphins are hoping that Tagovailoa will be able to play for an entire season in 2023 for the first time in his career. But if White is called into action, they believe they have a veteran option to lead the offense in his stead.

And if White is, it’ll be a meaningful full-circle moment.