MORGANTOWN — Neither started their freshman seasons in 2005 at West Virginia — those honors went to others perceived better after fall camp by head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Redshirt freshman Pat White was beat out by Adam Bednarik at quarterback, though Rodriguez made it clear that White was going to play significant snaps. True freshman running back Steve Slaton wasn’t as lucky, sitting fourth on the depth chart behind Jason Colson, Pernell Williams and fellow — though higher rated — freshman Jason Gwaltney.
Injuries, fallouts and the stars aligning just right allowed White and Slaton to each get their opportunities are the same time. Thirteen years later, both will enter the WVU Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday.
White, replacing the injured Bednarik against Louisville in the seventh game of the season, exploded onto the scene and helped the Mountaineers comeback from a 24-7 deficit in the second half for the win.
The first glimpse of Slaton’s ability came against Virginia Tech in the fifth game, finishing with 90 yards on the ground after his backfield mates had fumbling and character issues.
Slaton, like White, broke out against Louisville, scoring six touchdowns in the triple-overtime win.
Slaton went on to play three years with the Mountaineers before declaring early for the NFL draft, where he was a third round pick of the Houston Texans.
His 206 yards in the 2006 Sugar Bowl — a 38-35 win over Georgia — capped off a freshman campaign that had 1,128 yards rushing with 17 touchdowns in just eight games.
Slaton’s sophomore year was his best, named a consensus all-American and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He had 1,744 yards — a school record — and 16 touchdowns.
As a junior, Slaton slowed down, finishing with just 1,051 yards but still had 17 scores to finished with a school-record 50 for his career.
White played all four seasons with the Mountaineers and became the first quarterback ever to finish 4-0 in bowl starters, including two BCS wins in the 2006 Sugar and 2008 Fiesta (48-28 win over Oklahoma).
White finished his careers with 47 rushing touchdowns, 4,480 rushing yards, 6,049 passing yards, 5 passing touchdowns and 10,529 total yards — all top 5 in WVU history.
He was an eventual second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.
With their enshrinement, many believe the duo put West Virginia on the national stage in the modern era of college football.
“I saw a lot of them growing up,” current offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “I don’t know exactly where I was, but they were fun to watch. I thought that they put West Virginia on the map for me. For a lot of people that were in the Midwest, including a lot of the opponents we go up against, I think that Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt were the guys that put everybody on the map.
“They were fun to watch. They were. You watched them against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. I think Steve Slaton went off early in that game, which caught the attention of a lot of people. Then, to just watch Pat White throughout his career, it’s pretty cool to sit here and be a part of that and watch them get inducted this weekend.”
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was the cornerbacks coach all three years White and Slaton were at WVU and has a lot of good memories.
“I’m glad they were on our team,” Gibson said. “We didn’t have to defend them. The Louisville game sticks out more than anything with Pat and Steve, and the Sugar Bowl, as well.”
Even quarterback Will Grier, who is soaring up the record book himself, remembers watching those two in elementary school.
“They mean a lot — my memories are of them just being electric,” he said. “All of college football was amazed at what they were doing. They were outrunning everybody, it felt like. Everyone remembers how prolific that offense was. They’re guys that we look up to and we want to be a team like they had then. I was very into college football. I clearly remember watching those guys and being pretty amazed.”