SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Maybe it was the injuries. Or the lightweight recruiting profile. Or maybe it was playing at one of the deepest positions at Notre Dame.

Whatever the reason, Drew White is aware that earning the starting job at middle linebacker came as a surprise to some.

"I never really saw it that way," said White, who ranks third on the Fighting Irish this season with 21 tackles and leads the team with six tackles for loss. "I don't really get it."

White suffered a broken ankle as a sophomore in the spring of 2018 and then broke his shoulder this year during spring break in a "freak" snow skiing accident that didn't sit well with his coaches.

"I have no problem with going on a family vacation, but you're also on a scholarship," coach Brian Kelly said. "The good part about it is it's behind us. He worked through it."

White will make his fifth start of the season Saturday when No. 9 Notre Dame (3-1) plays at home against Bowling Green (1-3). It’s been a halting climb for White, who was a two-year starter at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and led his state-championship team in tackles both of those seasons.

Still, most recruiting services rated White as a three-star recruit at best. At 6 feet and 230 pounds, White doesn't appear to be a physically imposing figure in the middle of a defense where linebackers Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill so recently roamed. It all may help to explain why White remained an afterthought during his first two seasons at Notre Dame.

"He is somewhat inconspicuous," said Aquinas head football coach Roger Harriott. "So you don't expect him to move that fast, or be as physical and as strong as he is."

White let his game do the talking and earned the trust of his coaches last season in a fill-in starting role against Navy, the only extended action of his career before this season. With Tranquill out with an ankle injury, White was asked to help defend Navy's complex triple-option rushing attack. He responded with five tackles in a 44-22 Irish win.

"I already believed that I was ready to play at this level and I was just waiting for my shot," White said. "But definitely the Navy game gave me a boost of confidence and showed me that I'm ready."

After Tranquill returned, White played only four snaps the final five games of the season. He cemented his place as a starter this season in the opener against Louisville with five tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.

He added four tackles against New Mexico and five more against Georgia before a career-best seven last Saturday in a 35-20 win against Virginia.

"We needed that kind of production from the middle linebacker position," Kelly said in reference to replacing two of his top three tacklers from last season in Coney and Tranquill. "Somebody was going to have to give it to us."

With two surgeries during his time at Notre Dame, limited offseason work the last two years and facing a group of top linebacker recruits to compete against in training camp, White's journey from scout team to starter seemed unlikely.

"That guy's a winner," Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea said of White's resiliency. "He's fought through adversity and hasn't wavered, hasn't backed down and has been counted out probably 100 times."

And about that skiing?

"I will not be going skiing again until after I'm done playing football," White joked.

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