50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #8 - RUSSELL WHITE#8 - RUSSELL WHITE - RUNNING BACK (1990-1992)
I've probably never been more optimistic than I was at 1:15 pm on September 15, 1990. That's the approximate time that Russell White took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes. It was the first time he touched the ball for the Bears, and it augured Great Things.
Russell White wasn't a better running back than Marshawn Lynch. He was a lot more important, though. Go back to that time. Cal had just gone through the 1980s, its worst decade in football history - one winning season in ten tries. Its favorite son had come back to Berkeley and utterly failed as head coach. No one yet knew who Mike Pawlawski or Sean Dawkins were. But everyone knew Russell - or at least they thought they did - and he gave the student body and alumni some hope that things would get better.
Cal's all-time leading rusher was perhaps the biggest recruiting coup in school history. Controversy surrounded White's decision to move from Crespi HS to Berkeley, since he was a Prop 48 student who had not achieved a qualifying SAT score. A summer of tutoring revealed that Russell was dyslexic, and he would go on to earn his degree in social welfare in four years with a B average.
He would also go on to become Cal's all-time leading rusher, behind 1,000 yard efforts in 1991 and 1992. Fifteen times he rushed for at least 100 yards in a game, including a 229-yard effort in Cal's record setting 52-30 beatdown of USC in 1991. With White, the Bears reversed a decade of futility and won back-to-back bowls in 1990 and 1991. His '91 season, with 1,177 yards rushing and fourteen touchdowns earned White first-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and the FWAA.
In 1991 Russell White faced the same decision that faces Lynch today - turn pro, and be drafted as a high 1st round choice, or return to Cal for his senior year. White chose the latter option, bulked up in the off-season, and suffered through a disappointing 4-7 campaign under new coach Keith Gilbertson. By April 1993 the bloom was off White's rose, and he fell to the third round and the Los Angeles Rams. A year later, he was done with football. A huge mistake? Well, he did get that degree, and today he's doing something he loves - coaching and teaching at Desert Chapel High School in Palm Springs.
As an aside, White is also responsible for one of the stranger highlights in recent Cal history: