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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Just a few years ago, Kevin White was essentially a salesman in a helmet.
Now, he's a building piece for a founding team of the NFL.
The Bears selected the dynamic receiver from West Virginia with the seventh overall pick in the draft Thursday night, bringing cheers from fans gathered for the event in downtown Chicago.
New general manager Ryan Pace opted to go with a play-making receiver to replace the traded Brandon Marshall rather than address a defense that has ranked among the worst in franchise history the past two years.
"I've never had anything given to me, not even at high school or junior college," White said. "I had to earn everything. Every time I get the opportunity, I made the most of it."
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound White played two seasons at West Virginia after transferring from Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He really emerged as a senior, finishing third in the nation with 109 receptions and sixth in yards receiving with 1,447.
It was quite a jump for someone who did not play much in high school until his senior year — too late to draw interest from major schools — and sat out two seasons at Lackawanna. He redshirted his first year and was then ruled ineligible for the following season because of a missed deadline involving his financial aid paperwork.
He started to shine when he finally got a chance to play, but he did not draw much interest. White reached out to Division I coaches, and finally got a chance at West Virginia.
"He told that story when he was here, and that is an impressive path that he took," Pace said. "And you just see this guy every year, climbing, climbing, climbing, and this year was just dynamic. That was impressive."
Chicago also has one pick in the second and third rounds Friday (Nos. 39 and 71) along with a fourth-rounder (106), a fifth-rounder (142) and sixth-rounder (183) on Saturday.
Chicago made sweeping changes after going 5-11 last season, hiring Pace and coach John Fox to replace the fired Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. The Bears also have new offensive and defensive coordinators in Adam Gase and Vic Fangio, and they're switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
Roster-wise, there was no shortage of holes on offense and defense.
The Bears came in needing a top receiver to team with Alshon Jeffery after trading Marshall to the New York Jets. They're hoping White will give them just that. He set a school record with seven straight 100-yard receiving games to start the season and established the West Virginia mark with 16 receptions against Texas on Nov. 8.
White joins a team facing plenty of big issues.
The defense remains a huge concern after getting shredded the past two years under former coordinator Mel Tucker. The Monsters of the Midway gave up the two highest point totals in franchise history during that span. Last season, only one team (Oakland) allowed more points, and the Bears joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more in back-to-back games.
Pace brought in free agents such as linebacker Pernell McPhee and safety Antrel Rolle. But there still is plenty of work to do.
Quarterback is another issue, with Jay Cutler's future murky at best. He committed a league-high 24 turnovers last season and then had to wait until March before Pace and Fox announced he would be the starter next season.
On Thursday, there were reports that Bears were trying to trade him to Tennessee for the No. 2 pick and take Marcus Mariota.
"In my mind, we just got Jay another dynamic weapon," Pace said. "That's what I'm excited about it. I hope right now he's fired up because we just gave him another powerful weapon. With this receiving corps, this only adds to Jay's ability to distribute the ball."
Pace said there were seven players the Bears were comfortable taking at No. 7 and two were available when it was Chicago's turn.
But he also said drafting White was an easy choice. He praised his size, hands, route running, aggression and blocking ability. He described White as a receiver who can break a tackle after a quick slant and go 99 yards for a touchdown.
"I can tell you right now that the most excited guy in the building is Adam Gase," Pace said. "This is good, guys. Big-play weapon for us, competitive, tough player. We couldn't be more thrilled to have him."
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