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Charles White's job these days puts him on the USC sideline at
the Los Angeles Coliseum, only a few feet from where he ran
over, around and through opponents en route to winning the
Heisman Trophy in 1979. As the Trojans' running backs coach,
White may have come full circle, but the circumnavigation took
far longer than it needed to because of a bad trip White took
into drug abuse. "It's been quite a ride, yet here I am," he
says with a faint laugh. "I'm back at USC and happy to be alive."

Raised in a San Fernando ghetto north of L.A., White became a
football and track star at San Fernando High and signed with
Southern Cal in '76. Though not particularly big (5'11", 185
pounds) or fast (4.6 in the 40), White was a latter-day
Hector--the Trojan warrior who was at his best in the biggest
battles. In addition to winning the Heisman, White helped USC
earn UPI's No. 1 ranking in '78 and remains Southern Cal's
alltime leading rusher (6,245 yards). "Charles was the toughest,
most explosive player I ever coached," his former USC mentor and
current boss, John Robinson, has said. White's legs and chest
were sheer muscle, and his percentage of body fat in college was
as low as 1.9%.

White was weak, however, when it came to drugs. A first-round
pick in the 1980 draft by the Cleveland Browns, he sleepwalked
through his first few NFL seasons, the result of cocaine
addiction. The Browns released White before the '85 season, but
Robinson, who had become the coach of the Los Angeles Rams,
offered him a second shot. During the strike-shortened '87
season, White led the NFL in rushing and was selected to the Pro
Bowl. A year later he was suspended for 30 days for a second
violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, returned to
the Rams after missing four games but retired after the season.
At that point, says White, who first entered rehab in '82 and
participated in various follow-up programs, he "was clean and
sober for good." He took an administrative post in the USC
athletic department, while moonlighting as a celebrity combatant
on American Gladiators, before hooking up once more with
Robinson, who returned as the Trojans' coach in '93.

"I still get pumped for game days," says White, who was inducted
into the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year. "It's
the same rush I got when I was playing." Otherwise, he spends
time with his wife, Judi, and their five children. "I look back
at everything and feel blessed," he says. "It all worked out
after all."


COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Charles White featured on cover of October 2, 1978 Sports Illustrated]