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Murder, cockroaches, belief: How Rachaad White bet on himself
Meet the rookie back who has lived it all. His big gambles kept paying off, and now Tom Brady will be a very happy man in Tampa Bay. Rachaad White sits down with Go Long to share his remarkable story.
TAMPA, Fla. — Anything is possible in the life of Rachaad White. That’s what this townhouse looks like, smells like, tastes like. The sweet aroma of a brand-new pad hits you right through the nostrils and hope — only hope — fills the air.
His girlfriend, “Peanut” he affectionately calls her, revs up a power drill to assemble new shelves. Cardboard boxes are stacked on the nearby hardwood floor. Two jugs of cookies — chocolate chip and Oreos — are packed to the brim smack dab in the middle of the kitchen, where you’ll also find a stack of White’s personalized sweatshirts. They’re slick. His face takes up the front and the resemblance is uncanny, right down to the dark eyebrows, pearly-white teeth, mustache that cannot quite connect to the patch of hair on his chin, the tightly-wound dreads that droop down his face like the limbs of a weeping willow and, best of all, that infectious smile.
For two hours straight, the smile is permanent. Doesn’t matter if he’s speaking or listening or shuffling into the living room to pick up his baby daughter who wakes up from a long afternoon nap.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie running back knows the life he’s building here — three miles from Raymond James Stadium — is not possible without one leap of faith five years ago. Back then, he was a Division II running back for the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers. The future was bright. But after learning about junior colleges out in Cali, after hearing how one season of domination could catapult him to a D-I school, to the NFL, to God knows what heights in his life, White’s mind was made up. He’d bet on himself. The head coach at Kearney tried to convince him to stay by informing White this was a colossal risk — and it was. At Kearney, White would develop at a college program for four years. Out there? He could disappear.
Yet, White offered candor right back. He said that he believed in himself. Here, he holds his daughter against his chest and kisses her head. The reason why he never second-guessed himself at the tender age of 18 dates back a little further.
To scenes that don’t quite resemble a life of cookies and kisses.
To how he grew up and everything he witnessed.
“Hard. What you’ve seen,” says White, pausing. “And where you did not want to end up and be.”
Before a life of cookies and kisses, White grew up on “79th and 14th at Euclid” in Kansas City. There was a jungle gym right in his backyard where he and his older brothers would play games of “knockout.” With no basketball hoop, the monkey bars served as a makeshift rim. One day, White promises we’ll all see in a documentary the exact spot in the dirt they used as a pseudo free-throw line. “So,” he adds, “everybody can see that ‘this is what you can become.’” He cherishes those good memories and knows he’ll never forget the bad. The homelessness. The drug dealing. The gangs. The murder.
The first time White saw a man killed right before his eyes, he was 11 years old. Maybe 12.
A car show was being held in KC, and White watched the sparkling vehicles stroll by from inside his grandmother’s house around the corner. More specifically, he watched from inside the glass window of a screen door with the main front door wide open. and… Pop! White heard a gunshot. Then… Smash! A car rolled right up on his Nana’s curb and into the front yard. The driver was dead. White peered inside the car and could not look away. This pale lifeless face remains seared in his memory.
Police showed up, pulled the body out, surrounded the area with yellow caution tape and White would go on to witness two more murders as a kid.
“I knew,” White says, “that is where I came from. Seeing all that when you’re young, ‘I want to do something with my life positive. I want to make it out of here.’”
Heading west, he’d either make it to a Division I program or… he has no clue. He refused to boomerang back to KC. Thus, the stakes were clear in 2017. And that sense of urgency? Desperation? He loved it. Because when you don’t have a Plan B, he adds, “you’ll do whatever it takes.” White transferred to Mount SAC — Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. Then Arizona State. Then was drafted by the Bucs 91st overall in the third round of last April’s draft. Now, White is exactly the type of threat all modern NFL offenses seek: a 6-foot, 214-pounder with 4.4 speed and baby-soft hands. A runner and a receiver. For two decades, Tom Brady has made running backs like this his best friend: Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Shane Vereen to Dion Lewis to James White. The switchblade who’ll now extend the GOAT’s career is the kid seated right here who averaged 10 yards per carry in 2020 at Arizona State and caught 43 passes in 2021 and possesses a ubiquitous skillset that’s more dynamic than any of these four.
More importantly, his raw confidence is years in the making. Beyond the 17.8 points “White, Rachaad,” FLEX, produces for your fantasy team this fall, this is a human being who can inspire anyone in any profession.
He’s only getting started.
“My goal is to get a gold jacket,” White says. “And to be one of those running backs who’s remembered for a long time. The Hall of Fame stats are crazy. Out of how many guys who played in the NFL, there are only 300-some Hall of Famers. That’s the elite. That’s the one of one. I’ve got the opportunity right now to play with the best one.
“Why would I not take full advantage of this opportunity?”
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A kid only bets on himself if he truly believes in himself, of course.
For Rachaad White, that belief was injected early.
As the youngest of four boys, he did what every red-blooded American kid does during high school football games by playing pickup games behind the bleachers. He juked… and jived… and avoided the kill shots that bruised ‘n bloodied his peers and when it was time to play in an actual football game on the middle school team — in eighth grade — one “crazy play” forever showed White that he’s fully capable of taking any play to the house. It was comical. Counting in his head, White recalls breaking eight tackles in all that run.
The next year, he led the JV team to an undefeated season. The next, in 10th grade, he played safety on the Center varsity team. He always preferred running back — he loved the roar of a crowd when he scored touchdowns — but that’s where Center needed him. Into his junior year, White was set to be the team’s running back.
What an offense this was, too. White asks for my notepad and pen to design the “Gun Wing T” himself.
Unlike a traditional Wing T, Center’s quarterback stayed exclusively in the shotgun. The primary back, No. 4, stands directly behind the QB. Then, there are slot backs flanked to the left (No. 2) and the right (No. 3), one yard back and one yard to the outside of the tackle and tight end. Bunched together — with that QB in the gun — Center’s playbook was loaded with all sorts of fakes and powers and counters and draws and reverses. Those slots could also split to the boundary to run routes.
“I was here at first,” says White, holding the pen to the No. 4 back behind the QB. “I’m going to get to how I got here,” he continues, cryptically motioning to that No. 2 back.
The play that could’ve shattered his budding confidence, a 42 counter, occurred in a preseason scrimmage. He followed a pulling guard through the hole and stayed patient as that guard collided with a linebacker. The two big bodies stalemated like a pair of sumo wrestlers. To maintain balance, the guard jetted one of his legs out in kickstand fashion. So as White cut off him, he tripped, tumbled to the grass completely out of control, crashed hard on his shoulder… and that’s not all. A millisecond later, a defensive linemen crashed right on top of him.
“My shoulder,” he recalls, “got smashed.”
More specifically, his clavicle detached from his sternum. And he broke his first rib. And he damaged his shoulder plate. It all felt weird in the moment. That’s all — “weird.” White initially told himself this was nothing but a mild stinger that’d subside in 15 minutes. He prided himself on his pain tolerance so he figured he’d jump right back into the scrimmage after a drive or two. The pain, however, persisted. He kept himself on the sideline and couldn’t even take his shoulder pads off. When he finally did, it felt something like a knife cutting him open. White joined his teammates on the bus back to school and called Mom to say he needed to get to a hospital. ASAP. Mom couldn’t cut free — she worked nonstop to provide for the family — so she had one of his brothers pick him up.
After examining an X-ray, the doctor told White he needed to have surgery that same day and that White was one lucky kid. That detached clavicle was pointing dangerously close toward one of his main arteries. One more collision, one hit, and that sharp clavicle could’ve stabbed that artery. White would’ve internally bled out right on the field.
He’s still spooked.
“So close. So close,” he repeats. “One more move, just a little wrong move… it could’ve been worse.”
His two options were to insert a “plate” into his body or reattach his collarbone back to his sternum with dissolvable stitches. He chose the stitches. Understandably, the doctor advised White sit out the entire season. To White, this was not an option. He needed to dot the radar of colleges, especially after only playing defense as a sophomore. Nobody had seen him with the ball in his hands on offense. “When can I play?” White says. “That’s all I care about.”
What the doc didn’t know was that White was mentally hardened by then.
Not only from seeing people killed right before his eyes. Not only from having a gun pulled on him twice over fights on the basketball court.
Every day was a matter of survival. As a kid, it was common for his family to go without hot water or electricity for days on end. His mother, Rochelle Woods, paid all bills herself and it was often impossible to keep up. Nobody complained. When they didn’t have hot water, they’d boil cold tap water over the stove to bathe. When they didn’t have lights, they operated in the dark. Woods worked ‘round the clock in an attempt to stay ahead. She drove a school bus while also pursuing a college degree. Dad, meanwhile, was in Las Vegas trying to piece his own life together. Rachaad says his father was locked up from age 14 to 19, got out, then was locked up again. Eventually, he checked himself into rehab out in Vegas, got clean, and turned his life around.
Dad has since found a job with a moving company and Rachaad only has positive things to say about him, adding that his father remarried and now has a daughter.
“That’s not easy to turn your whole life around,” he says. “I love my Dad. But it was the same story — Dad goes to jail. Mom and Dad not together.”
In a way, Mom prepared Rachaad for anything with his middle name, “Kylelle.” When she was pregnant, she’d watch Cartoon Network and decided to put the “e-l-l-e” in her son’s middle name after Superman’s Krypton name (Kal-El). It helped that this home was always full of kids. Woods was the neighborhood mom who let everyone sleep over because this also meant all those kids weren’t out on the streets. Once, 33 stayed over. If White wasn’t here, he was at his Nana’s house a short six-minute walk away. It also helped that White found a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in John Waller who helped immensely.
Most of all, football became his escape from reality.
“They say ‘ball is life,’ but ball really was my life,” White says. “It was my safe haven.”
Whenever he was stressed, the sport soothed his soul. He wandered to an alternate universe and his running style actually began to mirror such a beautiful escape. He doesn’t sprint… he glides. He runs at his pace. Like Alvin Kamara, it appears as if White is spending a day at the spa, not bashing into other human beings for a living. No way could he hit pause on football for a freakin’ season. You kidding? White rehabbed his shoulder for a month and returned the fifth game of that junior season. The only wrench in his master plan was that Center had a new tailback tearing it up at that No. 4 spot, Norvell Trent, so coaches shifted White to No. 2, starting splitting him out wide as a receiver and, in retrospect, White realizes now how much that detached clavicle helped him get to this point.
“It molded my game,” White says. “I could already catch really well because it was natural. Me and my brother played catch thousands of times. I walked with a football. I laid down throwing the football. I could go outside if I needed to and just throw the football in the air and catch it. But that — right there — helped me get exposure. Coaches in college were like, ‘He can catch.’”
White knew he needed to go bonkers his senior year, and he did. He totaled 2,000 all-purpose yards. Even then, no D-I schools would take a chance on him — “Literally, nobody” — and he only blames himself. White admits he wasn’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices the summer into his senior year. Worried that this was the last time he’d get to hang out with his friends, he blew off training sessions. He was cool doing the “bare minimum.” If White would’ve gone balls to the wall, he’s positive he would’ve forced D-I schools to notice him. Two-thousand yards wasn’t enough.
“I was thinking I was already one of the best athletes at my school,” he says. “I was hard-headed. It came back to bite me in the butt.”
Alas, the only school to pass through was Southern Illinois and they told White they’d only extend an offer if one of their preferred recruits backed out. Division-II Nebraska-Kearney was the choice, and he was ecstatic. This was one school making it abundantly clear they wanted White to tote the rock at running back. Most D-II schools recruited him as an “athlete” which he knew was a polite way of saying “defense.” Even his brothers were telling him to play defense. But no. He’d be a running back because he believed in himself. The program’s new coach, Josh Lynn, had a plan of attack and White trained like a madman into that 2017 season.
He refused to make the same mistake he did in high school because he was “crushed.” No, “heartbroken.” He shed tears when he didn’t win the award for the best running back in the city.
White was talented enough to play as a freshman but agreed to redshirt and save a season. He’d get bigger, faster, stronger… right here. He’d become the face of the Lopers and have his NFL pro day… right here. On the scout team, White pretended to be the opposing team’s best player each week — running back or receiver — and had the No. 1 defense running ragged.
Then, a funny thing happened: Teammates noticed.
Teammates started calling him “Lil Le’Veon” and couldn’t help but put a bug in his ear. A handful had transferred from junior colleges in California. They didn’t have the grades and/or the talent to go D-I and settled on this D-II school to continue their own careers. White was stunned. White had never even heard of “junior college” before. Players explained how a JUCO was basically a fancy high school and that he could simultaneously qualify for Division I academically and light it up on the field to springboard into a Power 5 program. With his talent? They informed White he’d be able to pick his destination.
White chatted with their JUCO coaches and the coaches were blunt.
“They told me the truth,” White says, “the same thing my boys told me: ‘It’s going to be hard. Nothing’s easy. We don’t give out scholarships. The cost of living in California is this. We can help you find a place and put you in apartments with some guys, but you have to figure out how to pay your own bills, your own rent.’ You’re in an apartment with like nine dudes in a two-bedroom apartment. You’d see 13 dudes in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s crazy out there. But dudes are trying to make ends meet.”
White embraced the massive risk because he knew there was an even greater reward. He told Lynn he was going to transfer, stuck to his guns, and was so gung-ho that he kept his own mother in the dark until winter break. Upon hearing Rachaad was moving 1,600 miles from KC, Mom also tried talking her son out of this. Worried he’d be all alone in Cali, she even called a family meeting to convince him to stay.
To no avail. His mind was made up.
Before embarking on his manifest destiny, White chatted with those Kearney teammates one final time and they repeated one more message to Lil Le’Veon about JUCO life: “It’s going to make you or it’s going to break you.”
“And in my head,” White says, “I’m not being broke by nothing. Nothing is going to break me.”
JUCO life sure tried its best.
Welcome, everyone, to the edge of the football cliff.
At one point in Walnut, 25 miles from L.A., Rachaad White had no place to live. Zilch. He was homeless. After finishing up his first season at Mount SAC, he and quarterback Zach Rangel were evicted from their spot and barely had enough money to survive the day let alone afford their own place. As luck would have it — if you want to ominously call it “luck” — one of their teammates was also getting evicted from an apartment. The two seized the opportunity. They knew the lights and water would stay on through the rest of that bill cycle, so they snuck through one of the broken windows and… yikes. This last vestige of hope in the sport was hazardous to all five senses.
The inside was beyond disgusting. Trashed.
This home reeked of B.O. At least a dozen players were jammed in here.
All countertops and tables were covered with bags of trash.
When they flipped the kitchen light on, they saw cockroaches all over the floor.
When it was time to clean themselves, the shower was nasty and brown around all the edges. The toilet? Decaying.
For good measure, there was no air conditioning which conveniently accentuated all the grime.
White, Rangel and a third teammate had zero choice but to live in such filth and never hesitated. A roof was over their heads and that’s all that mattered. The trio lived here for three full weeks, and actually? It was quite peaceful, Rangel notes. Usually, he and White were jammed into a two-bedroom apartment with 12 to 15 teammates. That was clearly the state of affairs here and you never ever think about calling guys out for being slobs. That’s how fights broke out.
One thought dominated White’s mind: I’ve got to survive. He knew he needed to sleep wherever he could because if he did scrap enough money together to fly back to Kansas City, he’d stay in Kansas City. For good. That’s the sad story that unraveled all around him. So many JUCO peers bought plane tickets home when times got tough — promised “I’ll be back! I’ll be back!” — and never returned.
“Regardless of what I have to do,” White remembers telling himself. “I’m staying out there.”
Because there was no Plan B.
“It’s go time. I don’t have any other option.”
Granted, he did tip-toe near the edge his first year at Mt. SAC. Six running backs were ahead of White on the depth chart upon arrival the spring of 2018. Toiling “all the way at the bottom of the totem pole,” White had no clue how motivated the others were but absolutely knew he was more talented. That was a fact. As he makes this declaration, his daughter falls back asleep in his arms. She’s been an active baby since exiting the womb, he explains. Whenever she sees other little kids doing anything at all, she gets a look in her eye that screams, “I want to do that!” and Dad knows it’s his DNA kicking in.
That’s precisely how he felt with the Mounties. White was driven by what he calls an “I’m made for this”-mentality. By Game No. 1, he worked his way to third string but carries were scarce — one, then zero, then one — and his frustration started to boil over. Rangel remembers White hitting rock bottom after one game particularly. They returned to a packed apartment. Ten or so players were sprawled all over living room. And White asked him point-blank: “Am I no good? I don’t understand what the deal is.” He considered transferring (again) and Rangel, who was grayshirting that fall, calmed him down. The QB told White that coaches were trying to get the second-year guys looks first.
Finally, White spoke up.
He asked the offensive coordinator one question: “What do I need to fix?”
“My mentality is, ‘What do I have to do?’” White says. “I’m just trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. How I can touch the ball more? How I can play more snaps? Instead of just being the third-down guy. He said, ‘It’s up to your (running backs) coach. You’ve been doing good things. You’re gaining our trust more and more, and obviously we’re looking to move forward with you here pretty soon.’”
Soon after, four carries the night of Oct. 27, 2018 served the same purpose as that whirling dervish touchdown way back in eighth grade. The Mounties lost to Cerritos, 36-14, a team powered by the bruising Rhamondre Stevenson. This future Oklahoma Sooner and New England Patriot rammed ahead 30 times for 215 yards. But White? With his four touches? He ran for 114 yards, an average of 28.5 per carry. All week, White promised Rangel he’d put on a show. It just took a little nudge from Rangel up in the booth to finally get White the ball. With Mt. SAC’s backs struggling, the quarterback told coaches they had to get the ball to White. They listened.
“After that,” White says, “my junior college career skyrocketed.”
In sprints, he started dusting everyone else by 20 strides. After practice, he ran routes with the wide receivers. He found a new trainer. He watched film with Rangel, peppering him with questions nonstop. And he was more than willing to couch-surf wherever possible that summer of 2019.
Evictions were the norm for out-of-staters. It only took six months for White and Rangel to get booted from their first place and that point forward they made a pact to stick together. They’d only move in with someone who accepted them both and then fork over their fraction of the rent. Be it divided by 10, by 12, by 15, whatever. Of course, this meant they were also at the mercy of whichever teammate was willing to put their name on a lease. During the day, the two friends stayed at the football facility as long as they could. At least coaches had peanut butter sandwiches and Ramen noodles to share. But the fear of eviction always lingered.
First, you get a warning. Next, a red slip. You could return home at night to a locked front door, and that player on the lease? Nowhere to be found.
“All your stuff is locked up,” Rangel says. “They take it over. It’s tough. It adds to the stress. Not only are you in junior college trying to make something happen, you’re in school. Looking back on it, it’s crazy. But in the moment, you’re so used to ‘What’s new? What are we going to do to get through it?’ You can’t sit there and dwell on it or you’re not going to make it out.”
Rock bottom was right around the corner. Literally. Behind one popular apartment complex, a slew of JUCO players who washed out gathered to drink and smoke and delay their associates degree at a place known as “The Alley.” White ignored this crew entirely. He was willing to sleep in that abandoned apartment with Rangel — roaches ‘n all — and press forward, only forward, through that summer of 2019 because he knew this was his last shot.
The football gods sent a few angels his way. He met his girlfriend at Mt. SAC. Why “Peanut” stayed with Rachaad through all the squalor Rangel will never know. And outside of a 7-Eleven one day — rocking a wife beater, basketball shorts and slides — White was stopped by a total stranger. “Are you a ball player?” the man in the parking lot asked. White told him, yes, he was playing JUCO across the street and that he was from KC. The stranger introduced himself as Cam Jones and explained how he rolled the dice himself back in the 1980s. A Florida native, he attended Pratt Junior College in Kansas and clawed his way to the University of Colorado. “Everything you’re going through,” Jones told him, “I’ve been through.” They exchanged phone numbers, said their goodbyes and within seconds Jones texted him to say he’d stop by later in the week to drop off milk and eggs.
Which. Uh. What?
“In my head,” White says, “I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know, man. He seems a little crazy. I can’t just let him know where I live, where I stay. I don’t know! There’s crazy stuff going on in the world.’ I ended up taking a chance. I trusted him. It seemed like he had good intentions. I’ve got teammates with me. So I told them, ‘Y’all, watch out for me. Just come up and peek. Make sure he doesn’t try to do anything — take me, kidnap me, nothing like that where I’m fighting this dude.’”
There was no need to panic. Jones brought the goods over and quickly became another mentor. “God Pops,” White soon started calling him.
And when God Pops asked to take him to dinner, White had one humble request. From Day 1 if he ate, Rangel ate. If White had a slice of pizza, you better believe his best college pal got exactly half of that slice. That was their JUCO code of honor. God Pops was more than willing to welcome Rangel to dinner and help both out. He also told them about “People Ready,” an app that posts on-demand jobs all the time. It was a game-changer. White and Rangel jumped at every job they could to save up. Unloading trucks at 4 a.m. Helping families move out of their houses. Refereeing sports games. Even working security at Coachella. This job sounded cool in theory but was the grind of all grinds.
There was no dancing at Coachella, no, they worked 18-hour days and slept in tents.
But, hey, at least now they didn’t need to climb through broken windows for a place to throw their mattress.
Rangel could rave about White the football player all day. But living with White — the person — through this tumult opened his eyes more than anything.
“He’s one of my best friends. A big brother to me,” Rangel says. “Coming from his big background — to become friends with anybody like me — he’s very genuine, kind-hearted, and he sees through a lot of the BS. Societal things that tell you to be nice to this person and mean to that person, he doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from. The color of your skin. If you’re a good genuine person, he can make a connection with anybody.”
White didn’t care how many carries he’d get any game that second season at Mt. SAC. He was ready to make his move.
“Failure is not an option,” he says. “I was going to make the most of every opportunity I got.”
He certainly did. That 2019 season, White flipped the script:
After the opener, HBCU offers poured in. That 214-yard outburst against undefeated Saddleback opened the floodgates for Power 5 schools. That’s right around the time DeShaun Foster entered the picture. The former Carolina Panthers starter was now UCLA’s running backs coach and dripped with swag. White can still picture this coach in the unbuttoned Bruins baseball jersey, tank top, chains, khaki shorts and thinking No way was this actually a coach. Foster told White he’d be recording him at practice and Chip Kelly soon informed White that he was their top target. Which was fine and dandy. But then the head coach added that UCLA had a finite number of scholarships available at running back. If someone else committed, in other words, White would be shit out of luck. Kelly, an interesting cat, was trying to get White to commit on the spot.
After getting to know Foster (who he liked a lot), White committed to UCLA in mid-October. He even stayed true to that commitment when other D-I schools asked if he was a “Big C” or a “Lower-Case C.”
Then, things fell apart.
For starters, he was missing a credit. White wasn’t able to make spring ball at UCLA because he needed to take a winter course to earn his associates degree. That was a factor. There was also the matter of Boise State. They wanted White — badly — and visited Mt. SAC twice. After declining to visit several times, White finally caved. Boise State flew him, his mother, his brother all into Idaho and treated them all like royalty. UCLA got wind of this and was incensed. Not Foster. White makes it clear that Foster understood his thought process. Nonetheless, the relationship was broken even after White told them he was still committed to UCLA.
The Bruins offered a scholarship to another back and White officially decommitted.
White trained, refused to rush into a decision and chose Arizona State. The odds were long again in a backfield full of four- and five-star recruits who didn’t miss the entire spring and didn’t bring his JUCO baggage. White also heard rumblings that the Sun Devils were pigeonholing him as a receiving threat. He knew he’d prove ‘em wrong. All of the memories replayed through his mind. That dead body on Nana’s front lawn. The guns pulled on him. Those games of knockout on the monkey bars. The rusting shower. Those cockroaches. No way could a freshman beat him out. Not after everything he had endured. Once more, White told himself there was no Plan B.
“If you want something out of life,” he says, “that’s what you’re going to get. That’s what my mentality was.”
He talked to himself to manifest the future. He said out loud, “You don’t have a choice.”
He put on that No. 3 jersey as a Division I player and knew for a fact what was about to happen next.
One speech is on his mind again. Rachaad White taps open his phone to play it immediately.
All summer, this is the powerful message he’s been injecting into his psyche.
“Literally,” he adds, “every day.”
The man at the mic is Inky Johnson, a former safety at the University of Tennessee who has become one of the nation’s most powerful motivational speakers. Johnson spoke to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the offseason and White started consuming as much of his wisdom as he could. A potential NFL draft pick himself, Johnson suffered a life-threatening injury on Sept. 9, 2006 that rendered his right arm and hand paralyzed. The trauma inspired Johnson to help as many people as he possibly can in all walks of life. Oh, the 23-year-old White knows what runs through the minds of most Gen Z’ers when they wake up in the morning — they’re miserable.
They bitch. They complain. Their misery becomes dangerously contagious to anyone in their orbit.
White finds the clip, hits play, turns up the volume and Johnson’s voice is electric.
“My favorite quote in the world is Dr. King’s quote that says you judge true character and caliber of a man not by where they stand in times of comfort and convenience. You judge the true character and caliber of a man by where they stand in times of challenge and controversy. Everybody knows what to do when the sun’s shining. Everybody knows what to do when they get the deal. Everybody knows what to do when there’s money in the bank. Everybody’s going to praise God when they get what they want.”
White nods, grins and mouths many of these words himself as it plays on his phone.
“Everybody gives God praise when things go great for them,” White says. “But when things go bad, they say, ‘Why me?’ You can’t think like that. I don’t think like that. Why me? I don’t think like that. Why not me? I can overcome this. I’ve been here before.”
From Tempe to Tampa, nothing was going to stand in White’s way. The leap to D-I played out exactly as he envisioned.
Covid limited his 2020 season to four games, and he had 420 yards on 42 carries. After a sluggish start to the 2021 season, White began to wonder if he’d need to take that extra year of NCAA eligibility granted in lieu of the pandemic to reach the NFL. But, no, White did not want to stick around. Not after being in college for what felt like forever. He needed to preserve as much mileage as he could as a running back. After a 27-17 loss to BYU in which he still finished with 136 total yards and a touchdown, White was “sick.” He looked into a mirror and talked to himself again. It didn’t matter that defenses were stacking the box to shut him down —he describes his performance that night as certifiably “shitty.”
White texted his position coach to apologize. The coach told White to be himself, and that’s all he needed to hear.
Each Monday, he started watching film on his own to compile scouting reports on individual players and finished with 1,456 total yards and 16 touchdowns to punch his ticket to the NFL.
“If you’re perfect,” White says, “you have nothing to get better at. You have nothing to look forward to. But one thing — as a man, as a boyfriend — one thing I look in the mirror on is that. Being a family man. There are so many distractions out here. So many things that can drive guys crazy. I try to look at myself in the mirror and I know who I am as a man. When it comes to football during the season, I look at myself in the mirror all the time. I don’t care if the linemen didn’t block a soul. I don’t care if the pass was low. I’m always going to say, ‘My fault.’ The ball could be at my shoes — I need to catch it. I don’t care. It’s my fault.”
His entire life, he’s been surrounded by the worst imaginable external factors.
Now, White is living a running back’s dream. We’re chatting here on the cusp of training camp and White is dying to be everywhere Tom Brady expects him to be. It’s no coincidence his favorite route is the “option route,” when White has the freedom to cut inside or outside based off the defense. Brady has feasted on option routes for two decades. Those who cannot mentally keep up are typically cut. Those who can become Super Bowl heroes. The option route most closely resembles all of that “backyard football” in Kansas City, too.
It’s 1 on 1. It’s all about being precisely where Brady demands. Only, White doesn’t like hearing that word. He doesn’t view his quarterback as demanding. No, it’s his job to be where Brady expects.
“I try to make my game to where I have no flaws,” White says. “I’m not going to ever be perfect but I’ve got goals I want to accomplish.”
No wonder Rangel emphatically promises that White will learn from Brady unlike anyone else. Moments after a lifelong dream was realized — after White was drafted — the two friends went out to celebrate and Rangel remembers White refusing to drink one sip of alcohol. Everyone else went wild and there was White with a water. Rangel even half-jokingly told White he was making him nervous and offered to buy him a soda so it at least looked like he was drinking. White politely declined and, April to August, constantly told Rangel how excited he was to learn everything he could from Brady.
Nobody beyond these townhouse walls matters much. He’s locked in.
“It’s him. His daughter. His girlfriend,” Rangel adds. “And that’s it. He keeps his circle tight. He’s on a mission.”
That mission is bigger than football with White now placing a much larger bet. Raised without a father, he vows to be the best Dad possible. Seeing dead bodies roll up on his front lawn, he wants kids in Kansas City to know there’s a life beyond their neighborhood. Every so often he thinks back to his childhood — to those lights not turning on — and says aloud, “I can’t let my daughter live like that.”
White wants to be a living embodiment of that Inky Johnson quote and “change narratives.”
“It’s up to you,” White says. “A lot of people say, ‘I’m accustomed to this. My uncle was a gangbanger.’ Whatever your life is. Naturally, it gets passed down generations. Everybody has a choice.”
Adds Rangel: “His mindset’s crazy. Rachaad is one of those guys who was going to be successful in whatever he did. Whether he was going to be an executive or a sports broadcaster, he’s very, very driven. That relentless nature is definitely what has propelled him to the heights he’s achieving right now. He hasn’t even touched the surface.”
Know this about Rachaad White, too: He’s always been this joyful. Through all madness in KC, in Walnut, he did his best to keep that smile on his face. I ask White how he managed to stay so joyful when he didn’t have many reasons to be joyful. His answer again serves as sage advice for all.
“There’s a lot of negatives in the world,” White says. “Everybody has negativity all the time. That’s the way of the world. Be negative, negative, negative. What I feel like is, positive is different. Everybody doesn’t think positive. That’s what I feel like is different.
“Everyone is always finding something that’s wrong. Find something that’s right.”
He maintains this perspective 24/7.
Fatherhood can be stressful, but he refuses to compute it as stress. He knows that there are countless men and women who cannot even have kids and genuinely feels bad for them. He tries to cherish every second with his daughter after practice. “Because,” he adds. “I’m not ever going to get this time back.” All criticism from all coaches is appreciated. God Pops is still his No. 1 critic, leaving voice messages and texts on his phone. Life lessons are never forgotten. As our conversation winds down, White’s mind drifts back to KC, to when he was a 16-year-old dashing into a Dollar General to buy something for his mother. He was in a hurry. He was fidgeting in frustration that the line wasn’t moving fast enough and an older woman spoke up. She told White that good things happen to those who wait. “You know why patience is good?” she continued.” Because everybody doesn’t have it.” White never forgot those words.
The same age that Dad was first incarcerated — age 14 to 19 — son was learning the essence of life.
As a Buc, White writes down specific goals and inspirational one-liners to get his mind right before each practice. Assignment and Alignment. All Gas, No Brakes. Have Fun.
“I’m going to always be myself,” White says. “I pride myself off being a good guy. You might even do me wrong, but I pride myself on being a good guy.”
He won’t need to wait in the back of a line in the pros. Tampa Bay is ready to win now and he’ll undoubtedly play a key role on a Super Bowl contender. After sharing his story, White looks like a man who could go on for two more hours. He doesn’t fidget in his chair or hurry me out of his new home. Still, it’s clear there are boxes to unpack, diapers to change and footballs to catch from Tom Brady.
Remember, he plans to be in the Hall of Fame one day.
There are many more bets for Rachaad White to place.
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