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Patience has propelled Zamir White to a late season emergence

Richard Bailey, Scotland High School's head football coach, got a frantic call on his walkie talkie while watching game film in the school's fieldhouse. The call was regarding an unfamiliar man approaching the premises of the rural Laurinburg, North Carolina, school.

He was not walking or on a bicycle, nor was he driving a car.

"There's somebody on campus on a horse! There's some man on a horse on campus!" Bailey heard over the walkie talkie.

The Scotland head coach peeked out at the field, and lo and behold, it was Zamir White, days after winning the 2021 National Championship with Georgia, riding his horse across his old football field that he recorded countless rushing yards on.

"I said, 'Guys, that's just Zamir, we're all good,'" laughed Bailey. "He had just told me, 'Coach, I'm going to ride up there and see you in a minute.' I thought he was going to drive his car up here, but he rode his horse."

Zamir White doesn't have just a horse. He has 12 horses. He keeps them loaded up in a stable in his hometown of Laurinburg, where he was the No. 1 ranked running back in the nation in 2018.

"We race them, we breed them, we train them – we do it all," said White.

His love of horses began when riding his grandfather's horses as a kid. White's passion for the majestic animals has even transferred over to the gridiron, modeling his rushing attack as of a thoroughbred.

"Definitely there's some similarities," White said. "Just how prideful they are, how fast they are. Horses have been a part of my life since I was 3-4 years old. Horses are a huge part of me."

After a successful collegiate career at the University of Georgia, White has spent two seasons learning from one of the best in Pro Bowler Josh Jacobs. 

"For anybody, SEC football then coming into the league, it's a speed adjustment for one thing," said running back Brandon Bolden, a veteran mentor for White. "What I will say about Zeus, he came in head down, didn't really say a lot lot and he just worked. He took up as much information as he could. Guys like me, Ameer [Abdullah], Josh – a product of all three of us and you get Zamir."

Throughout the process of learning to fly within the "supportive" running backs room, what was the biggest takeaway for White?

"Patience," he said. "Just being patient and just being you. Just coming into work every day to work for you. Blocking out the thoughts of, 'I'm just waiting around. My chance is not coming.' Just block all of that out and focus on getting better every single day."

Then came the time when the "next man up" was White.

Something was noticeably off about Jacobs in Week 14's 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. After rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs the game prior, a quad injury limited No. 8 to under three yards a carry against Minnesota.

With four days to rest until the Thursday Night Football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu told White he was getting the starting nod the evening before the game.

"I was like 'Cool, let's do it.' No nerves at all. Georgia boys, we don't get nervous. We just go do it," White said with a laugh.

In his first NFL start, he totaled 85 scrimmage yards and notched his first touchdown off a one-yard rush. His score was the first of nine in the game where the Raiders ran away with a record-breaking 63-21 victory.

"I think Zamir prepared himself each and every week for this opportunity and he took full advantage of it," Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce said a few days after White's first start. "What I saw was a physical runner, somebody that was moving to pile, that was straining to get every inch, every foot, every yard he could get. Productive in the passing game, productive in pass pro as well.

"And when you say audition, every day is an audition, that's football," continued Pierce. "Everybody's on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute contract. … Take advantage of your opportunities and he did just that."

In White's second start the next week, he sliced and diced the Chiefs defense as the Raiders came up victorious against their division rivals. The second-year running back totaled a career-high 145 rushing yards while averaging nearly seven yards a carry. And the week after that, 76 scrimmage yards with 20 carries against the Indianapolis Colts.

"[H]e's done great," interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree said. "He did a good job in the passing game. He had some opportunities last game. He's caught the ball, he's ran well, he's protected well, and he'll continue to grow and turn into a really good player."

White's 2023 season will come to a close Sunday, getting a fourth straight straight against the Denver Broncos as Jacobs has been ruled out. White said he'll let the future take care of itself, hoping the job he's done so far provides more opportunities in the 2024 season.

"They can see I'm more comfortable out there and I'm not just out there not knowing what to do," he said. "I know what I'm doing. I'm confident and I'm ready for it all."

His approach to earning his keep on every snap has been evident since his playing days in North Carolina.

"The thing about him, he's not the kind of guy who'll sit back and gripe about things," said Bailey "He's going to be grateful for any opportunity and each opportunity he gets. And whatever they ask him to do, he'll bust his rear end to do it as well as he can. That's just his nature."

The Silver and Black get in one last practice at Intermountain Health Performance Center before their week 18 matchup against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium.

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