After eventful recruitment and start to college, Isaiah White finds a home with Nebraska
Isaiah White has always been a big Ohio State football fan.
So when the Buckeye wrestling coaches came calling his junior year of high school, he couldn’t say no.
For the moment, at least.
“I still watch Ohio State,” Nebraska’s 165-pound junior said. “Those are my boys. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have an impact when I was being recruited.”
But White is at Nebraska, and he is currently ranked sixth nationally in his weight class for the 11th-ranked Huskers. His journey to Lincoln took a few extra turns.
White committed to Ohio State his senior year at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a wrestling powerhouse just west of Chicago, where he won three state titles for the Huskies.
His high school coach, Mike Powell, would bring in NCAA Division I wrestlers to give White a go in practice, but Powell said it didn’t matter.
“They would stop showing up after three times because Isaiah would beat them so bad,” Powell said. “He is a once-in-a-generation type athlete.”
He also won the 145-pound junior national championship in high school.
“I saw the look in his eye before junior nationals,” Powell said. “He was looking for extra workouts, and when Isaiah White is focused and hardworking, he’s the best wrestler I’ve ever been around.”
The push to get White in a Nebraska singlet started his senior year, before his commitment to the Buckeyes.
Former wrestlers Derek White and Kris Williams hosted White in Lincoln.
“You know how college visits go,” White said as he reminisced. “We didn’t do any of that. We just hung out and freestyle rapped. We were just doing goofy stuff like that. I had a good time. I remember waking up and feeling like I was at home. I really thought I was at home. It was weird. I was like, ‘This is definitely right.’”
It sure helped that his girlfriend at the time was really interested in attending Nebraska.
But things went south and they broke up.
“We got into a fight and didn’t talk,” White said. “The next day, I woke up and committed to Ohio State. It was stupid. It was crazy.”
It wasn’t that simple, however.
Powell remembers sitting at Lou Malnati’s eating pizza and meeting with White and his family for three hours trying to figure out the predicament White was in.
He needed a 3.87 grade-point average his senior year to get into Division I schools.
He ended up .03 off that mark.
White didn’t have the grades to get into Ohio State and he traded a Big Ten experience with the Buckeyes his freshman year for a much different one.
He wrestled at Notre Dame College, a small Division II school tucked on the southeast side of Cleveland.
“It’s a lot different here (at Nebraska), a lot more strict,” he said. “You could miss a practice (at Notre Dame), not saying that I did, and it wasn’t a big deal. Especially if you were one of the better wrestlers.”
He won a Division II national title and twice beat Vincenzo Joseph, now a two-time Division I national champion at Penn State.
As White piled up the wins, his plans to head to Columbus after his first year at Notre Dame changed and Nebraska came knocking.
“(Ohio State) had recruited and put (a scholarship) in a kid at 165,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “They tried blocking us from getting him, but once he passed those 24 credit hours at Notre Dame, we pretty much knew we were going to get him.”
Manning was right.
White said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity at Nebraska because it was more than just wrestling.
“It’s almost impossible to not graduate from this school with all the help and programs they have,” White said. “That’s the big picture. No one has an academic facility like this for student-athletes.”
The development that he saw with wrestlers like Jordan Burroughs was a draw, as well.
“To be in the room with him once or twice a week, that is huge. He just lifts the level of competition to new levels,” White said. “I’ll be lifting and he will walk in. Then I’ll be like, ‘Man, JB is here. Let me get 10 more curls here.’ It’s not like he expects that, he just brings that to the room.”
As White’s level of confidence and wrestling elevates, it continues to produce results.
He won the 165-pound bracket at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in December, but he expects more.
“I’ve always been able to wrestling with anybody,” White said. “I don’t go into matches with any expectation to lose. It doesn’t matter who’s out there on the line; I expect to win.”
As the Huskers host Northwestern at the Devaney Sports Center at 2 p.m. Sunday, those expectations will be put to the test.
“It’s go time for us now,” Manning said. “This is the time we start ramping things up against the Big Ten.”