Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 9:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 9:38 a.m.
DENVER (AP) - Southern California's Thunder is rumbling off to the NFL. USC's Lightning could be next to bolt.
LenDale White declared himself eligible for the NFL draft on Wednesday, one day before Reggie Bush is expected to announce he, too, will skip his senior season to turn pro.
White, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior, was the Thunder to Bush's Lightning in the Trojans' backfield for three seasons. White set a USC record by scoring 57 career touchdowns
He said it was difficult to leave a program that came within seconds of winning a third consecutive national championship last week.
"I wouldn't say that it was a slam dunk" to leave USC, he said. "It definitely was hard giving up that dream because I won a lot of football games there."
White would have been a leading Heisman Trophy contender had he stuck around for his senior season but said he knew he was making the right choice.
"I didn't feel like my heart was with USC no more. My heart was with the team and those guys and I loved being there," he said. "But I feel like it was time for me to move on and experience something better."
Bush, who won the Heisman Trophy, is expected to be taken No. 1 by the Houston Texans in the April 29 draft with Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, last year's Heisman winner, and White going shortly thereafter.
"We obviously hate to see LenDale go, but we understand and we wish him the best of luck. He had a great career at USC and was such an integral part of our program," USC coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. "I think every player on our team, especially Reggie and Matt, would tell you that his presence was a key reason why our offense was so tough to stop. He provided the physical power and mentality that softened up defenses. And when he got near the goal line, you knew nothing would stop him from scoring."
White's 26 touchdowns this season were the most in the country, and his 156 points also led the nation. He had 541 carries for 3,159 yards in three seasons and scored three touchdowns in USC's 41-38 loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4.
White and Bush combined for 99 career touchdowns in three years, breaking the NCAA record of 97 set by Army's Glenn Davis and Felix "Doc" Blanchard from 1943-46.
"I'm happy for him and I know it'll work out for him," Bush said in a statement. "I'm behind him 100 percent. He's like my brother."
White, who is from Denver, said he consulted with his cousin, Detroit Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups, who was the third overall selection in the 1997 NBA draft after he left the University of Colorado following his sophomore season.
Billups never led him in one direction or the other, White said, just to "go with your heart. If you go with your heart then you can't be mad at yourself."
Bush offered him the same advice in a short phone call 20 minutes before White's announcement at a downtown Denver restaurant.
"I just thanked him for being a great teammate, for always being there when I needed him. And he just told me to go with what your heart's saying," White said. "I don't know what he's doing. I don't know if he's leaving or not. But I just talked to him and it was (nice to hear) that from someone who's in the same situation as me."
Bush rushed for 3,169 yards and White 3,159 in their respective careers, helping the Trojans go 37-2. They had won 34 straight before losing to the Longhorns last week.
"It was a lot of fun," White said. "I really wouldn't mind hopefully in the NFL reuniting with Reggie because during my career he helped me a lot. ... The competitive nature between the two of us made us Thunder and Lightning."
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