By Max Goodwin
When Rachaad White was a senior at Center High School, it wasn’t his athleticism that stood out most to coaches. In fact he might have been the third most athletic in his senior class, said one coach.
He was mostly unranked by the recruiting websites and ignored by Division I programs. But there was an aura about him, says coach LeDale Wooten, a teacher and basketball coach at Center High School.
White was different though. His energy, his mannerisms, the way he carried himself.
“I remember when I first met him and the thing that stood out the most was his character,” Wooten said. “He always wanted to be better than everybody. That was his thing, he wanted to be better than every single body.”
When Wooten was head coach of the Center basketball team, he made White his point guard, the leader of a team that would win a district championship.
He played all over the field on the football team, both offense and defense, in the slot, and out of the backfield. On the basketball team he held his teammates accountable with a ferocious work ethic.
“He was ordinary talent-wise,” Wooten said. “I think where he always kept improving was his mentality, his drive, his work ethic. I’m a pretty intense coach, and everything I threw at him, he ate it up and didn’t complain.”
His ascension to the NFL, opening training camp alongside the likes of Tom Brady, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette, has been stunning for those who have known him since he was an almost unnoticed prospect.
“It’s unreal, honestly,” Wooten said. “Because it seemed like it happened overnight.”
He landed at a Division II school, the University of Nebraska-Kearney in his freshman year. After one season, White transferred to Mt. San Antonio Community College near Los Angeles. There, he broke through with a season of 115 rushing yards per game and 10 touchdowns leaving a trail of jaw-dropping highlights.
He then accepted a scholarship to Arizona State. In a Covid-shortened 2020 season, White led college football with 10 yards per carry on 42 carries in his first season at ASU. With NFL scouts paying close attention to his senior season, he ran for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
It’s a deceptive smoothness that defines his running style, rather than speed or power. He’s projected as an above-average pass-catching running back with a large frame, at 6’2, that provides the quarterback with a big target.
In April, he was the sixth running back selected in the NFL Draft with the 91st overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s now potentially a key addition to Tom Brady’s offense as the Buccaneers contend for a Super Bowl.
In his first practice at rookie minicamp, White caught himself soaking in the experience.
“I’m looking at the logo on everybody’s helmet and I’m looking at the color on everybody’s jersey like this is crazy,” White said at press conference. “Like, I’m on the Buccaneers. This is wild.”
White is in a three-part competition involving Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaugn for the second running back spot on the Tampa Bay depth chart behind five-year veteran Fournette. Beat reporters covering the team anticipate White winning the backup running back battle.
Right after the draft, White raised eyebrows with a comment that he planned to not just win the battle but was coming in to start. Fournette cleared the air at minicamp, saying that was the attitude needed at this level.
“I’ve seen people making a big deal out of him saying he’s coming to start,” Fournette said in a June minicamp press conference. “That has to be your mindset. That was my mindset when I first came in. I respect it.”
Coach Wooten says that since graduating from Center, White has come back and run basketball scrimmages with the team during summer. This year, White was instead in Tampa Bay preparing to open his first NFL training camp.
One day a few weeks ago, after a scrimmage at the high school, Wooten pulled over at a familiar house on 89th Street and took a photo. He attached the picture of the house White grew up in with a text to his former point guard.
“Be thankful for these moments and don’t forget where you came from,” it read.