LUMBERTON — A few months ago, the race for Scotland High running back Zamir White seemed to be a runaway.
But as the top-ranked tailback in the Class of 2018 closes in on his college announcement Tuesday, two teams appear to be jockeying for position down the stretch.
Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are in the mix to land White, who will announce his decision in the cafeteria at Scotland High School at noon on his mother Shanee’s birthday, but Georgia and North Carolina are believed to be the current favorites.
“Throughout this process, it has always been so-and-so and Georgia to me,” Scotland coach Richard Bailey told The Robesonian. “It might have been Alabama and Georgia at one time. Then it was Ohio State and Georgia. For a long time, it was Clemson and Georgia.
“Here lately, North Carolina has made a little push to where I think it’s Georgia and North Carolina. But the one steady girlfriend has been Georgia.”
White has visited North Carolina the most, followed by Georgia. He visited Chapel Hill recently during North Carolina’s annual “Freak Show” event and has made numerous trips to see his close friend and former Scotland teammate Jonathan Smith, an inside linebacker for the Tar Heels.
A 6-foot-1, 220-pound rising senior, White is the highest ranked running back out of North Carolina since Millbrook’s Keith Marshall — who played at Georgia — in 2012.
Dating back to 1999, White has the highest 247Sports composite rating of any running back out of the Tar Heel State.
“As far as can’t-miss running backs, it’s really hard to find a flaw in Zamir’s game,” said Brad Crawford, who is covering White’s announcement for CBS Sports. “Zamir really checks all of the boxes as far as a franchise-type running back.”
With 247Sports’ Crystal Ball prediction at 92 percent in favor of Georgia, Crawford sees the Bulldogs as the “overwhelming front runner” to nab White.
“I think Zamir knows he can start as a true freshmen in 2018 at Georgia, kind of following in the footsteps of (Georgia’s rising senior running backs) Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. North Carolina might have an outside shot. They’re a team certainly that would be somewhat of a surprise.”
With distance also being a factor in White’s decision, Clemson, Georgia and North Carolina are all within a five-hour drive from Laurinburg, with Chapel Hill being roughly 90 miles away from Scotland High School.
But Crawford sees the Bulldogs and Tigers as the best fits for White as a football player.
“He could be a star right now at Clemson or Georgia in those two offenses. He would get the most burn and touches at North Carolina, but as far as looking out for his future, you’re looking at two top-10 programs there in Clemson and Georgia. I think it would be a big upset if he pulls out the UNC hat next week.”
The Tar Heels have recent draft success on their side with five running backs on current NFL rosters — second only to Alabama, which has six.
But there’s no question that the Bulldogs have history on their side, boasting running back star power with the likes of Marshall, Tarboro’s Todd Gurley, Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst and Lumberton native Tim Worley.
Bailey said White has been in contact with all five schools, but “has put on his poker face and kept things close to the vest” recently.
“He really has kind of shut it down a little trying to figure things out,” Bailey said. “I think he knows where he’s going. At the end of the day, this is the most important decision you’ll make besides marriage.
“You need to do what’s best for you. Everyone of these coaches will tell him what he wants to hear when it comes to the schmoozing of recruiting. You have to read between the lines and figure out what’s best for you. You have to be a little selfish about it.”
During his junior campaign, White finished with 189 carries for 1,774 yards and 27 touchdowns, leading Scotland to its sixth straight 4A Southeastern Conference championship. White has earned several postseason accolades, including the N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, a spot on the MaxPreps’ Junior All-American team and a first-team selection for the 4A Southeastern Conference. He also earned a spot on the Associated Press’ all-state prep team.
“I’ve seen him probably four times up close. Watching his film, I just notice from him that he’s an extremely balanced running back,” said Crawford, a former sports writer for The Robesonian. “When he hits that second level, you don’t want corners and safeties trying to tackle him. If you don’t tackle him within five yards, it’s probably going to be a home run.”
Crawford likens White to Gurley, who was was named the 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Rams.
“He does look like Gurley a lot on film. Gurley was slightly bigger. (White) breaks tackles like (Tennessee Titans running back) Derrick Henry. He’ll be a zone-read type running back. Bailey has certainly utilized him as much as possible. He’s a guy as a freshman who can get 18 touches a game. He may even be a guy that catches a few balls out of backfield, too.”
As his coach, Bailey gets to see a side of White that doesn’t show up on highlight videos or social media timelines.
“The biggest thing is how he is off the field. He’s been blessed as far as God-given talent,” Bailey said. “(People) don’t see how hard he works. He takes every handoff in practice and goes 30 to 40 yards. You don’t normally see that. He’s going to bust his butt running sprints in practice and he’s a great teammate.”
White is also fully qualified for the college level and finished his junior year with a 3.17 GPA. He also volunteers as an inspirational/motivational speaker at local elementary schools.
“They don’t get to see how he is with kids. He’s just phenomenal,” Bailey said. “Everybody sees a football player, but not the kind of person he is. He’s really a quiet kid. … This whole newfound fame is giving him a little bit more confidence. But in reality, he’s a quiet, humble guy.”
But like the nation, Bailey will learn of White’s decision on Tuesday.
“I’m like everyone else, following the path of where’s he’s gone and then what I’ve seen. I’ll find out like everyone else in America (on Tuesday). At the end of the day, I’m a North Carolina fan, so I’d love to see him be a Tar Heel, but that’s the selfish part of me. It’s about him and his choice. Wherever he decides to go, I’ll be a fan of Zamir White every week.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.