Garner’s Keion White a perfect match for Patriots

The defensive end plays things close to the vest after being selected in the second round

Georgia Tech defensive lineman Keion White runs a drill during the NFL Combine in early March. The Garner High School alumnus was drafted in the second round by the Patriots. (Darron Cummings / AP Photo)

After his pro day at Georgia Tech, defensive end Keion White said something that proved to be prophetic.

“I’m a pretty nonchalant guy,” the former Garner High standout and high school teammate of Nyheim Hines said. “Compatibility is a big thing in the NFL. You might be good for one team but trash for another, just based on how you fit in.”

White was thought to be a potential first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and while he slipped to the second round, he couldn’t have found a more compatible match for him. He was taken in the second round, No. 46 overall, by the New England Patriots.

When the pick was announced, the cameras on the draft coverage cut to him as he sat, utterly stone-faced and perhaps somewhat annoyed, as he received the news that he was officially headed to the NFL.

So, of course, he would go to the Patriots, the franchise whose head coach, Bill Belichick, is known for his monotone and lack of engagement when meeting with the media.

“I don’t know if y’all seen on TV, but I’m a pretty chill person,” White said shortly after being drafted. “So I’m not very like explosive in excitement in any form. So I’ve just kind of been taking it in and I haven’t even talked to my family, to be honest. I’ve just kind of taken it all in and handled it myself, for sure.”

If anyone deserved to take a moment to pump a fist, shout in glee or wipe away a tear, it was White, who arrived at Garner as a 5-foot-8 waif who, he claims, couldn’t bench press 95 pounds. By his senior year, he was unrecruited and planned to enter the military before Old Dominion came through with a football scholarship two weeks before signing day. He worked as a night watchman and Domino’s delivery guy while playing college ball — he claims to still keep a polo shirt that was part of his Domino’s uniform in his closet as a reminder. White transferred to Georgia Tech and battled through an injury to earn his spot in the league.

“I’m playing with house money,” he said at the NFL Combine. “First round, second, seventh. I don’t care. I was so close to not playing college football.”

A short while after he was selected by the Patriots, his new head coach took the podium in Foxborough and showed the rookie how a master media grump does it.

“We’re glad we ended up with (first round pick) Christian (Gonzalez),” Belichick said. “He’s a good player. We’re glad we have him. We’re glad we have Keion and Marte (Mapu, the third round pick) too. They’re all good players. Good size. Good speed. Smart guys. They should help us.”

Belichick was asked if the Patriots considered taking White with their first round pick. He frowned, shrugged and finally said, “Yeah. Sure.”

It was pointed out that White was projected as a first-rounder by many mock drafts.

“Whatever all the predraft hype is and speculation is, as usual, it’s pretty far off,” Belichick groused. “Nobody can predict how it’s going to go.”

A month earlier at his pro day, White could have been channeling Belichick as he was asked about his draft projection.

“I don’t care about that mock draft stuff,” he said, “because those are a bunch of guys sitting in their offices just playing around.”

White’s greatest hits also included his thoughts on his draft stock rising.

“I wish I could just go back and be an under-the-radar guy. That’s what I like.”

On which teams he’d be visiting for interviews and workouts:

“My agent handles that. I just get on the flight.”

And on which NFL players he patterns himself after:

“When you do what everybody else does, you’re going to be just like everybody else.”

All that was missing was a “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

It’s a match made in heaven.

“I’m a very big business person,” White said after being selected. “So I’m not too big on the glitz and glamour of football. I want to work. I want to win. And I feel like that’s what the Patriots offer. And I feel like that’s where we meet in the middle there. … I feel like our personalities mix well. So I feel like it’s a really good fit.”

White was a bit surprised that New England called his name since the Patriots did a good job of downplaying their interest as Belichick, not surprisingly, kept his cards close to his vest.

“I didn’t have any contact with the Patriots. So it was a surprise to me,” White said.

Belichick was told of White’s comments and, predictably, shrugged.

“We were at his pro day,” he said. “He wasn’t able to do much (White was recovering from an injury). We had film of everything he did and saw him at the Combine and all that. We’ve had interactions with him. When you get so many scouts, as college players do, it’s tough to keep track of them all, but we had interactions with him.”

Suddenly, Belichick broke into a smirking grin.

“We know him better than he knows us,” the coach said. “But we’ll get to know each other real soon.”