Norman White admitted that he was extremely nervous before Villanova's football season began.
In August, the wideout kept thinking about his increased role in the Wildcats' offense. "I didn't know if I was ready mentally," White said.
It turns out that the 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior's concerns were unwarranted.
White has been a force for the 10th-ranked Wildcats (9-4), who will face No. 1 Eastern Washington (11-2) in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal Friday night at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Villanova is the defending national champion.
An all-Colonial Athletic Association selection, White leads Villanova in receptions (66), receiving yards (842), and touchdown catches (11).
The former star at St. Joseph in Hammonton, N.J., had six receptions for 69 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in a 54-24 victory over No. 3 Stephen F. Austin in the second round.
In the quarterfinals on Saturday, White hauled in the ball one-handed for a career-long 54-yard touchdown pass in a 42-24 victory over No. 2 Appalachian State.
That second-quarter grab gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead they never surrendered. The 21-year-old finished the game with 88 receiving yards on four receptions.
White had totaled just 25 receptions for 345 yards and two scores through his first two seasons.
Even Villanova coach Andy Talley had wondered if White could blossom into a go-to receiver.
"We were concerned going into the season about losing Brandyn Harvey, who was our big-play kid," Talley said of the 2009 all-CAA selection who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason.
"You looked at Norman, and we were like, 'He could be the guy.' But you needed to see. But early on, he produced. And I think, actually, he's better than Brandyn.
"He's faster," Talley added. "I think his hands are every bit as good. And he's very coachable."
"I learned everything I know from Brandyn," White said. "He's still in touch with me, telling me what I am doing wrong, what I'm doing right, just correcting me, keeping me positive."
This season, White is living a dream, one that saw him transform from a 17-catch starter in 2009 to an all-conference selection.
"Now, I feel like I'm a part of the offense," he said, "and I'm really happy."
NCAA Football Championship
Friday at 8 p.m., Roos Field, Cheney, Wash.
TV/radio: ESPN2/ESPN-AM (950).
Records: Villanova, 9-4, ranked 10th nationally; Eastern Washington, 11-2, ranked No. 1.
Coaches: Villanova, Andy Talley (26th season, 188-106-1); Eastern Washington, Beau Baldwin (third season, 25-11).
Series: First meeting.
Villanova update: The defending-champion Wildcats are making their second straight appearance and third overall in the national semifinals. Look for wideout Matt Szczur to continue to play a major role. In the Wildcats' first two playoff games, he had three career-high performances: He had 11 receptions against Stephen F. Austin, and last Saturday he scored four touchdowns - including three on the ground - against Appalachian State.
Eastern Washington update: Although they were ranked No. 1 nationally, the Eagles were awarded the fifth seed in the playoffs. Eastern Washington boasts a Buck Buchanan Award candidate in linebacker J.C. Sherritt. The award goes annually for the FCS's best defensive player. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder is the Eagles' career leader in tackles with 406. The all-American has 150 tackles, averaging 11.54 per game. With him leading the way, Eastern Washington is 7-0 at home this season.
- Keith Pompey EndText