AUBURN, Ala. — It’s difficult to detect the differences in Auburn quarterback Sean White.
The Boca Raton, Fla., native, still stands 6-foot tall. He’ll still sport his No. 13 jersey again this season. Even White’s chin is still covered in the same scruffy facial hair.
Yet the Tigers’ 2016 starter is strikingly different. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn emphasized that this preseason’s competition would bring out the best in everyone — and that’s especially true when it comes to the quarterback position.
“He’s made me a lot better,” White said of going against Auburn’s starter Jarrett Stidham while competing for the starting quarterback job. “Hopefully I’ve made him a little bit better. We compete every day. Not in a, what do you call it, an angry type way or anything, but just healthy competition. We make each other better. It’s made me a better quarterback.”
The process started before the early weeks of August, however. In fact, the mental and physical transformation began while White stood on the sidelines with his arm in a sling during Auburn’s Sugar Bowl loss at the end of last season.
In that moment, White reflected on his bad luck and the string of injuries suffered throughout his career. He promised himself he would do everything he could to never feel that way again.
The first lesson was learned “the hard way.” White, always one to take chances and spice things up with seemingly risky runs, would change his approach.
“I like to fight for my teammates, but there’s a fine line between being tough and stupid sometimes,” White said. “From now on, when the big dudes are coming and I have no chance, I’ll just get it done.”
One of the next steps was putting on healthy weight that would serve White well if — and when — he is stuck taking hits from the SEC’s freakish defensive players.
White’s not any taller, but he is stockier and better able to protect himself. He added about six or seven pounds of muscle in the offseason while holding onto his deceiving speed.
“I haven’t really slowed down at all,” White said. “My vertical went up in the weight room, so I feel like it’s been pretty good weight I’ve put on and I think it will be like body armor to help me absorb more hits. Linemen, D-linemen, linebackers in this league are big and it’s tough to take those hits if you don’t have enough weight on you.”
One of the biggest advancements has come through a focus on fundamentals. Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey agree, as do Auburn players, that White’s “really improved from spring to now.”
When the coaching staff was deciding on its starter, they didn’t really think White failed.
“I’m not going to say it was really anything that Sean really fell short of,” Malzahn. “[He is] better right now than he was last year.”
All-around improvements have been made. Now, for example, White finishes on his throws.
“I have a tendency to fall away, from what we saw on film last year,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been focusing on since I’ve gotten healthy and I feel like I’ve done a really good job so far in camp focusing on it and improving on it and improving it and it’s helped my accuracy a lot and helped me drive the ball a lot better.”
White’s proud of how he’s refined his game, but he’s also comfortable taking a back seat until his name is called. It’ll be a drastic reversal from his last two years, during which he made 16 starts for Auburn. But his value is just as important, if not more so.
He’ll revise his approach to game days, too. Instead of relaxing when it come to opponents, he’ll study and prepare — maybe even more than he normally would.
White says he has “all the confidence in the world” in Stidham and will do all he can support the starter.
“I think I can be a lot of help, to be honest,” White said. “I’ve played for two years, I’ve seen a lot of the defenses and how they play in this league and where to attack them and where they’re strong. I think I can help him a lot, and I’m going to do my best to do so.”
That’s just what an “Auburn man” does.