By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Quarterback Sean White battled through a knee and foot injury last season. That toughness impressed Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
He's still impressed a year later.
Malzahn named White his starting quarterback on Thursday, just as he did after three games last season. Injuries knocked out White before the season was done, but he came back and started the bowl game and continued on through the spring and in August practices.
His steady play won him the job.
"He's earned it," Malzahn said. "He's a guy that has experience in our offense. He's a tough guy. 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 won the three-way race that featured senior Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III, two full scrimmages and a preseason practice schedule that began Aug. 3.
"I think he's improved in all areas," Malzahn said. "He competed at a high level last year and battled through some injuries.
"He's a smart guy that understands the offense. He battled. He battled hard in fall camp. It's tough when you rotate three guys and you're in a battle, it's tough on all three of them. But he responded very well."
Sean White says he feels great to be Auburn's starting quarterback. Watch the video: pic.twitter.com/w1vetF2yCi
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) August 25, 2016
Malzahn said it was a close race.
"We have confidence in Sean and, more importantly, his teammates have confidence in Sean," Malzahn said.
Receiver Marcus Davis said White is "guy you're real confident in."
Malzahn said White won on the job because "more than anything it's the progressions of understanding the offense. Anytime you have experience in something you can go to your check downs or go to the other side of the field. It was probably just the overall experience factor of being in the situations, knowing what to expect and knowing what to do and what not to do."
Malzahn didn't say who is the No. 2 quarterback.
"We really tried to do a good job of all three guys getting equal opportunities," Malzahn said. "Jeremy had a very good fall camp, very competitive. He's much improved. He's in a very good spot. John Franklin competed extremely hard, and like I've said before, he improved greatly from the spring. Of course, we expected him to."
White said he's grown as a leader in his second year.
"I'm more comfortable. I'm older," White said. Now, he said, he looks as himself this way: "You're the older guy. You're the quarterback."
White added he has "so much respect for the other two quarterbacks."
White was named the starter for the fourth game last season when he replaced Johnson. White started five consecutive games before an injury sidelined him, opening the door for Johnson to start the next four games. White came back to start the Birmingham Bowl.
Malzahn said White was slowed after the injuries.
"He wasn't the same guy," Malzahn said, adding that a healthy Sean White is "a mobile guy."
The quarterbacks have worn no-contact jerseys through August practices. Malzahn said he could still find a starter.
"The fall camp there were enough situations we could see all three of them how they would react," he said. "All you can say is 'Would this guy break 'that' tackle or would be break 'this' tackle.' We did enough that we felt like we gave them all a fair chance."
White started six games and Johnson started seven games last season.
Malzahn kept the fans guessing on his starter some weeks last season, waiting until an hour before kickoff at Kentucky to say White would start his third straight game. White was named the starter for the Birmingham Bowl an hour before kickoff after missing the previous two games with a knee and ankle injury.
By season's end, White at hit 83 of 143 passes for 1,166 yards with one TD pass and four interceptions. Johnson hit 95 of 157 passes with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Franklin was a Florida State for two seasons before transferring last season to East Mississippi Community College, where he passed for 733 yards and rushed for 451.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine