FOXBORO - If things get a little tense or homesickness rears its ugly head, James White knows it's just a quick ride down U.S. 1 to the warm embrace of family.
But the Patriots' rookie running back, who has spent four years as far away as imaginable from his Fort Lauderdale home in the wintry climate of Madison, Wis., also knows it will serve him well to stand on his own two feet as he makes the next-level leap from college football to the pros.
"Definitely, it helps a little bit," White said Tuesday when asked if having his aunt and uncle, Desiree and Arnold McNeil, living in Attleboro, just a few miles south from the stadium. "But at the same time, you have to be able to mature on your own, and make responsible decisions."
One of those responsible actions that the Patriots will expect going forward is a continued commitment to hanging onto the football.
"Ball security is job security. That's a quote that I've always been told," White said before a gathering of reporters on the Gillette Stadium playing surface, repeating a statement he made after the Patriots selected him with the 130th overall pick in the recent NFL Draft.
He said it's a theme that has been pounded into his head every step of the way along his football odyssey.
"All my coaches stressed that," he said. "If the ball's in your hands, you'd better protect it because that's the most important part."
In four years at the University of Wisconsin, White fumbled just twice in 754 career touches. That's pretty impressive, and certainly something the Patriots' coaching staff would appreciate in light of the troubles that Stevan Ridley has had with protecting the football.
White arrived in Foxboro for good this week - a little late compared to the other rookies because Wisconsin had not yet had its graduation ceremony, and rookies are prohibited from participating in NFL camps before those ceremonies have taken place. But the 5-foot-9, 204-pounder didn't feel as if he has fallen too far behind.
"It wasn't difficult," he said. "I just got in my playbook, took down all the things that the coaches wanted me to do, and have been learning as much as possible. It's been good. That's how you learn the material pretty fast, you go out there and are repping with the veterans, and you get it down pretty fast."
It helps that White has a solid pedigree. Wisconsin has sent its share of talented running backs into the NFL, including Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis, Michael Bennett, Montee Ball and Brian Calhoun.
"It's definitely an honor," he said of his inclusion into that list. "A lot of great running backs went through the Wisconsin system, and it's just an honor to even be in the same sentence as guys like Ron Dayne.
"They're just guys that work hard and do anything to help the team win," he added. "They're guys that gave their best effort every day."
White is versatile, having demonstrated plenty of ability as a runner, receiver out of the backfield and even a willing blocker, despite his relatively small size.
"You have to be able to do all aspects of the game as a running back," he said. "In order to be good on the field, you have to know the offense. And as most small guys do, you have to have a chip on your shoulder. You just use that and let it push you every single day."
White visited the Patriots before the draft, on the same day as quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, and he came away with a good feeling
"It's a great place, and I know it's going to be a great atmosphere here on game days," he said. "I'll go out here, just compete and work hard and hopefully make the team."
He also admitted to a little familiarity with the Attleboro area from past visits with his aunt and uncle. While that may not translate to lunches at Morin's or spare-time runs around the new track at Tozier-Cassidy Field, at least he knows there may be a little more of a rooting interest in him locally than there might be for some of the other rookies.
But most importantly, White knows it's time to hunker down and focus, just as it would have been if he had been drafted by a team on the other side of the continent.
"I saw (the Patriots) as a potential fit, but at the same time, you never know where you're going to go, and you just hope to hear your name called," he said. "I'm going to go out there, work hard, learn the plays and put the team first."