SALT LAKE CITY — There's a wolf man atop the Utah depth chart at running back.

And, no, he doesn't howl at the moon or anything like that.

John White IV, a transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, is just a big fan of wolves. So much so, in fact, that he recently had a tattoo of the animal put on the right side of his chest.

"I love wolves," White said while noting how they roll with the pack. "They're just all about family. They're just scavengers. They eat the meat to the bone, so that's what I'm going for."

Attacking things head-on is White's style. His mental and physical toughness, explained Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, is why the Utes are elated to have him in the program.

"He came here and has done nothing but work hard since he set foot on campus," Whittingham said. "He's a guy that puts the necessary time in off the field as well as work his tail off on the field."

Although not very large in stature, the 5-foot-8, 186-pound running back has put up some big numbers in his career.

At Harbor College, White led the Seahawks to a pair of league titles. He left the program with several records to his credit including career marks in all-purpose yards (3,767), rushing yards (2,527), points (248), total touchdowns (41) and rushing touchdowns (34). His single-season records include 2,056 all-purpose yards, 152 points, 25 total touchdowns and 18 rushing scores.

And there's more. White once returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown and had a 97-yard run from scrimmage for a score.

As a senior at South Torrance (Calif.) High School, White earned all-state honors after racking up 1,850 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns in nine games as a senior.

Whittingham calls him a "home-run back" with great quickness and great change-of-direction skills.

Teammate Tauni Vakapuna, who is second on the depth chart at tailback, says White can "break it on any play" and if opposing defenses miss a tackle on him they're going to pay for it. He hits the smallest of gaps.

"That's a pretty fair assessment. He's such a slippery back. He can find the holes and he hits them hard and he's tough to bring down," said quarterback Jordan Wynn. "I've talked to the defense a bunch of times about both Tauni and John and they say both of them are tough to bring down. It usually takes a group of guys to bring them down, not just the first guy."

Wynn added that White is a different runner than last year's primary backs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide. He's shifty and quick like Wide, Wynn added, but smaller and faster — making it even more difficult to stop him.

With less than two weeks to go before the Sept. 1 season-opener against Montana State, White has emerged as the leader of the pack. Camp opened with White in a three-way tie with Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo for the top spot.

"Right now he's the clear cut No. 1 tailback and that's where we're at. He's done a great job learning the offensive schemes," said Whittingham, who acknowledged that White wasn't real confident in spring ball because he didn't have a great grasp of the offense. "Now he has complete command of the position, at least from a mental standpoint, and he's showing why he was leading ground-gainer in all of college junior football last year."

White, though, doesn't take anything for granted. It's something his father instilled in him.

"My dad always told me to work hard, no matter if you're first, second or third, you've still got to work hard," White said.

The competition is ongoing.

"I'm working with these guys every day. They're like my brothers. We always want to beat each other," White said. "We always want to see each other do good. It's never been who's the best. It's always just been kind of a competition."

Although he expected it to be a grind, White accepted a scholarship offer from Utah because of the opportunity to step in and play. Asiata and Wide graduated and heir apparent Sausan Shakerin was forced to retire early because of injuries.

"I had a few choices. I saw them coming into Pac-12 and me and my dad did some research and saw they didn't have any depth at running back," White said. "I felt like it was a great fit."

Utah, he continued, is close enough where his family could come out and see him play. Then there's the Pac-12 deal with the Utes scheduled to visit USC this year and UCLA next, allowing White to play close home both years.

The "wolf man" said he's happy and content to be at Utah.

"It's just a good look for me," he added, tattoo and all.

Season opener

Montana State at Utah

Thursday, Sept. 1

TV: KJZZ

Radio: 700 AM

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Twitter: @DirkFacer