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Jerry Sullivan: Tre'Davious White is a character Bills fans can embrace

LaShawnita Ruffins knows about temptation. She also knows what the money and the fame can do to a young professional football player. But she has no concerns about her son letting the NFL life go to his head.

"He's cut from a different cloth," Ruffins said Friday afternoon at an introductory interview session and photo shoot for cornerback Tre'Davious White, the Bills' first-round draft pick. "Cut from different cloth."

White grew up on the hard streets of Shreveport, La.. When he was 11, he saw a man shot from his grandmother's driveway. But he never wavered, never strayed off the path of an achiever. He was up early, off to school, where he became a star athlete at tiny Green Oaks High, the class valedictorian.

He would work out three times a day. But Ruffins said she never had to pester White about his schoolwork. That was part of the deal. He had big dreams, lofty aspirations, and to achieve them, you kept working.

White's dream was to play in the NFL one day. But while he kept pushing forward, he always remembered to look behind. He knew kids were watching and judging. He wanted his two younger siblings and the kids who looked up to him to understand there was more to life than sports.

Fast forward to LSU, where White became a star defensive back, selected as a junior to wear the coveted No. 18 jersey, emblematic of selflessness and achievement both on and off the football field for the Tigers.

After his junior season in Baton Rouge, White could have declared for the NFL draft and chased the money, but he decided to stay in school. It's easy to be cynical about college football, which many players see as just a stopover on the way to the pros. He relished the role of the student-athlete. The Pegulas say it's about character. They backed it up with this pick.

Bills pick CB Tre'Davious White in first round

"I just want to be different," White said. "My mindset is different. Growing up, I had a lot of family members and a lot of my best friends go the wrong route. I didn't want to do that. You'll hear me say over and over again, my purpose is to motivate and inspire.

"The kids in my community, seeing me do that, going back to school and passing on money, they're like, 'It's not all about that, he's different. He's a guy we can learn from'."

White's parents and his sister, La'Daijah, were standing off to the side of the media room at One Bills Drive when he spoke Friday. When Tre'Davious uttered those words, his father, David White, walked over to the dinner line to grab a napkin. He needed to wipe away his tears.

"Well, it was a proud moment," said David White. "Coming from where we come from, it's hard to make it. If someone makes it out there, it's really a big deal. It's a hard place. Every day, it seems like a dream, like I see on TV all the time. Is this really my son that's making it to the NFL?"

Ruffins said it felt surreal the night before, when the Bills made White the 27th pick of the draft. But she admitted that her boy got a little uneasy when the first round unwound and he was still on the board.

Five things to know about new Bills CB Tre'Davious White

"He was getting very discouraged at the table," she said. "He said he should have stayed at home. I told him, 'You don't worry about that. God has a plan. God's going to place you exactly where he wants you."

That place turned out to be Buffalo, a small NFL city with a college town mentality. People are passionate, despite persistent disappointment. A player who relished the college life should love it here.

"Absolutely," White said. "I loved college. That was the best four years of my life! I wish I could go back and do it all over again. The relationships I built, the people I met, the things I was able to do, then to come to a similar situation where the fans are very passionate.

"At LSU, the game is on Saturday," he said, "but on Thursday you have RVs lined up and people are already cheering and ready to go. I heard here that on a Friday, the RVs are lined up and ready for Sunday. That hit home for me and I'm really looking forward to it."

The kid hasn't had his first practice and he's carrying on about the RVs on game day. Let's hope he can play, because he sounds like a keeper. More than one writer told me he sounded "senatorial," in the mold of our old friend, former safety George Wilson.

In looks and speech, White reminded me of Kenneth Davis, the fine backup running back from the Super Bowl era. Davis loved being a Bill. He was the most eloquent of the old players about the game-day experience. Davis became a high school coach and athletic director in Dallas after he retired.

White, who graduated from LSU with a degree in sports administration, has similar ambitions after his playing days. He wants to go back home to coach his high school football team and become an AD some day.

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First there's the matter of becoming a solid NFL defensive back. White said he's humbled by the faith Sean McDermott showed in him. He looks forward to being one of the building blocks on a Bills revival.

Oh, and next week, he'll become a father. His girlfriend, Ikea, is due with a baby boy next Wednesday back in Louisiana.

"When you sit in meeting rooms with coaches, you're told to turn the phone off," he said. "But I'll have mine ringing as loud as can be."

Ruffins, who works as a floor supervisor at a casino near Shreveport, plans to be at every Bills game, home and away, as she did when he was at LSU. She's proud of all he's overcome to get to this point. That included a three-month stretch of his junior year in high school, when Ruffins served three months in a re-entry program for the illegal use of an access card.

White lived alone in his mother's home for a month while she was in jailĀ (Ruffins and David White divorced 10 years ago but have an amicable relationship). It was a rough patch, but he still got up at 6:30 every morning to go to school.

"He was the top student in his class," Ruffins said. "Good kid! Never, ever had any problem. No suspension, no disciplinary action. The only thing I had to do was get him out of the gym. Last person in the gym! 'It's dark, come on home!' Then he's up in the morning, jogging down the sidewalk.

"It's motivation to other kids," she said. "And they're going to see it here in Buffalo, that he's a hard-working, humble young man. And he's going to lift the defense. He's going to set the bar high."

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