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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Sean White will open this season like he finished the last one: As Auburn's starting quarterback.
Coach Gus Malzahn proclaimed White the winner of the three-man race over Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III after Thursday's practice. White will start Sept. 3 against No. 2 Clemson.
"We've got three guys that can run our offense but Sean White's the first one that will be out there," Malzahn said. "We're excited for Sean. He's earned it. He's a guy that has experience in our offense last year. He's a tough guy. He's in a good spot. He's in a good spot to lead this team. The team's going to rally around him so I'm excited for him."
White replaced Johnson as starter in midseason and started five games before sustaining knee and foot injuries against Arkansas. He reclaimed the No. 1 job in the Birmingham Bowl win over Memphis.
He was the first Auburn freshman quarterback to make his starting debut against an SEC opponent since Jeff Klein against Tennessee in 1999. White was also the first Auburn passer to throw for 250-plus yards in three consecutive games since Dameyune Craig in 1997.
But he only threw one touchdown pass against four interceptions, two of them coming in the bowl game.
Now, he's emerged on top from a competition that carried through spring until nine days before the opener.
"It feels really good," White said. "I feel blessed to be in this position, and I feel responsible to lead this team against Clemson. I'm happy coach put this responsibility on me and my teammates believe in me. I feel like they have a reason to believe in me. We'll be ready to go come Saturday."
White said there's a "night and day difference" from last season, when Johnson opened as not only the clear starter but regarded as a potential star.
"Before the season, I prepared hard, I wasn't slacking, but I wasn't preparing to go out and start and lead the team until my name was called on," White said. "This year, I had all spring, all preseason to prepare like I'm the starter. That's been a huge difference as far as timing with the receivers and just being able to go out there and run the plays, not think, and being able to lead everybody."
Malzahn didn't disclose a pecking order behind White. The coach said White ran a 4.6 40 in the spring.
Tailback Kerryon Johnson said it's a relief to have the quarterback question answered finally. He said there's more to White than just being nice.
"He's obviously a really nice guy and a really great friend," Johnson said. "But I think Sean has a little mean streak to him. He's not going to back down from anybody. He's a spicy player and he loves competition. That's the thing that people get out of playing with him. They really get that attitude that you can really feed off of as a team."
Jeremy Johnson had already had a tough week before losing the quarterback battle. His grandfather, Ojedita Johnson, was killed in a car accident in Lowndes County on Wednesday morning.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to him," Malzahn said. "That's a tough situation. We're all hurting for him."
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