Former Hilltoppers reach their NFL dreams

Former quarterback Mike White (14) talks to members of the media after the NFL Pro Day in L.T. Smith Stadium. “I think it went really well. I told the guys beforehand, ‘Lets have fun,’” White said. “When you have fun it takes your mind off the high pressure of these kind of situations.”

Alec Jessie

A smile crept across Jerry Jones’ face as he paused to pick up the phone. 

The Dallas Cowboys owner was 171 picks into the 2018 NFL Draft, but he seemed no less enthusiastic to call former WKU quarterback Mike White. 

“We’ve been going over you here, but we’re fixing to put your card in and make you a Dallas Cowboy,” Jones said to White in a video posted on the Cowboys’ website. “It is a compliment, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be drafted in the NFL. But you’ve got some great things being said about you here.”

Jones’ smile was mirrored by Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as he took the phone to speak to White. 

“We’re awfully excited to bring you in here,” Garrett said. “South Florida’s a nice place, but so is Dallas, Texas.”

White was one of two former Hilltoppers to hear their names called during the third and final day of the NFL Draft, as linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe was also picked 115th by the Chicago Bears.

Seen by experts as a long shot to get drafted, Iyiegbuniwe was selected earlier than expected Saturday afternoon and became the sixth-highest draft pick in program history. 

As a four-year player and two-year starter, Iyiegbuniwe racked up 200 tackles and 22.5 tackles for loss. He also registered 6.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. He led the Hilltoppers in tackles last season. 

ESPN projected Iyiegbuniwe to contribute to special teams early on and had him ranked as the 27th-best linebacker in the draft.

Iyiegbuniwe will have plenty of competition at the linebacker position for the Bears. With its first pick of the draft, Chicago snagged the top linebacker prospect in Georgia’s Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick. The former First Team All-American figures to start from day one. Seasoned veteran and former Super Bowl winner Danny Trevathan started 12 games for the Bears last year and also figures to have a firm grip on another linebacker spot. 

With the Bears running a 3-4 defensive scheme and Iyiegbuniwe slated to play inside linebacker, he will likely backup Smith, Trevathan and potentially other veterans during his rookie season. Special teams and possibly playing rotational snaps seem to be Iyiegbuniwe’s best chance at getting on the field in 2018.

As for White, projected that he would go in the third or fourth round, potentially coming off the board on day two. But he had to wait deep into the third day to hear his name called. Despite that, he has now become the highest-drafted Hilltopper quarterback in program history. 

White began his college career at South Florida before transferring to WKU for his final two seasons of college football. In his two seasons at WKU, he amassed 8,540 passing yards and threw 63 touchdowns while averaging 316 passing yards per game. He went 17-10 as a starter at WKU. 

White garnered many honors during his time on the Hill, including being the 2016 C-USA Newcomer of the Year and being named to the Davey O’Brien watch list and the Maxwell Award watch list. 

ESPN ranked White as the ninth-best quarterback in the class and projected him as a likely NFL backup with upside due to his prototypical size and big arm. 

Currently, Dak Prescott has a stranglehold on the starting job and is seen as the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback. In his rookie season, he led Dallas to a 13-3 record after the Cowboys previously went 4-12. The young star quarterback isn’t giving up his snaps anytime soon. White could certainly end up the backup quarterback going into Week 1. He will battle with Cooper Rush, who went undrafted in 2017, for the backup spot. White figures to get plenty of snaps in the preseason while head coach Jason Garrett evaluates the position. 

While they did go undrafted, both tight end Deon Yelder and wide receiver Cameron Echols-Luper both found their NFL homes on Saturday as well.

The break-out star tight end will be signing a mini-camp deal with the New Orleans Saints. Yelder came into 2017 having not caught a pass in game action, but broke out with 52 catches, 688 yards and seven touchdowns. Yelder looks to continue his momentum from his Senior Bowl performance with the Saints. The former walk-on will once again have to fight to keep his professional football dreams alive. After the departure of former starting tight end Coby Fleener, the starting spot is wide open with just Josh Hill, John Phillips and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster.

Echols-Luper will head up north after agreeing to a mini-camp deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Prior to transferring to WKU this past fall, Echols-Luper attended Texas Christian and Arkansas State. In his only season as a Hilltopper, he caught 42 passes for 473 yards and four touchdowns. Echols-Luper will fight for snaps with a bunch of receivers in Indianapolis, most notably Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.