There is no defined path to the NFL, only the determination to seize a dream without reserve. Remaining focused on a goal in the midst of momentary adversity is a challenging feat for any individual. On his journey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third-round draft pick Rachaad White discovered what he did not want to do on the winding journey of fulfilling his true passion. White believed himself to be a star but knew that before he took centerstage he first had to work as a VIP backstage.
As a no-star running back recruit out of Center High in Kansas City, White struggled to garner attention from desired Division I programs. He landed at Division II Nebraska-Kearney, where he redshirted in 2017 before transferring to Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, California. As a sophomore, he became the starter and posted 1,264 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He added 216 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns to the mix, showcasing his versatility. White became the No. 3 JUCO running back in the 2020 recruiting class but despite the external success on the football field, his struggle in the shadows took a toll.
"It was tough," White described. "My junior college was in California, and they did not offer any scholarships. So, I had to make ends meet. I worked warehouse jobs, furniture jobs and security for Coachella. I was working security for a variety of jobs while going to school and playing football. It was a tough journey."
"A lot of people do not understand what goes on in JUCO. Those coaches do the best they can to help you, but to you, you are grateful for all the little things. That molded me into who I am today because I am grateful for all the little things they could help me with. That is why I am never an ungrateful guy, and I am always appreciative of life in general, why I smile so much. There are people sleeping in abandoned apartments, people sleeping in cars. You see that every day from JUCO guys, people every day trying to bust their butt to get a Division I scholarship."
During the day, White would attend class and practice. Before any of that, however, he would roll out of bed at the crack of dawn to assemble furniture for hours at a time. During the weekends in the offseason when most of his teammates and classmates were still sound asleep, White left at 4:00 a.m. Throughout the hardship and myriad of jobs in order to pay rent and put food on the table, White never doubted himself. Instead, he turned it into a positive. He chose to take the cards he was delt and absorbed information from life's experiences along the way. The continuous reminder he whispered to himself? "This is not what you want to do, and this is not what you are going to do."
His self-motivation paid off. White committed to Arizona State in May 2020. As a two-year starter, he led the team in rushing during the 2020-21 seasons, averaging 6.4 yards per carry for the Sun Devils. White bet on his talent and became arguably the shiftiest back in the Pac-12. With a slash running style, White possesses the lateral agility to quickly bounce runs outside. With top acceleration post-cut, he forces missed tackles. Scouts toted his "body control" and "elite pass-catching traits" during the pre-draft process, but his greatest trait may be his vision.
"Vision is something not everyone has," White remarked candidly. "It is a blessing, and it is a gift from God. That is what I am blessed with. I still have to read. I have an assignment and I have an alignment and an aiming point – my coach teaches me that. That can take you a long way, knowing what to do on a play. But with vision, you cannot teach it. If the play breaks down and there is nothing there, the vision kicks in to where you can make something out of nothing."
Vision may be a prerequisite to White's success, but it is an attribute that is hard to measure. Decisiveness, understanding run concepts and reading the offensive line's leverage all contribute to this innate trait on the field and allow White to instantly deduce which hole to run through after the snap on any given play.
The rule is finding a happy medium. Hitting full speed before taking the handoff can impede options and make it more difficult to change course. On the opposite side of the spectrum, standing still not only creates an optimal prey for defenders in the backfield but takes longer from which to accelerate to top speed. A running back must move forward surveying the line of scrimmage, anticipate where the hole will be based on alignments and hit it without hesitation. A crease forms in a split second and it is the running back's vision that tells him where that will be.
For White, that attribute will be pivotal at the next level. During rookie mini-camp at the AdventHealth Training Facility, White is acclimating to life in the pros with a plethora of drills on the field and meetings/seminars off the field to expand on the mental processing. He attacks each day with an infectious grin plastered across his face, motivated by his eight-month-old daughter, Nevaeh Michelle White. The bestowed name is heaven spelled backwards, a fitting description to encapsulate the person who has become his 'why.'
"My daughter is my world and my life. Her, my lady and my family are everything. She [Nevaeh] helped me learn patience and realize little things. She helped me learn how to be a father, how to a greater person in this world. I always have to do the right thing, no matter what. Nobody wants to talk about this but in this world, it is about sacrifices. The sacrifices that have come with my daughter, have made me and shaped me into a greater human being."
After reaching the NFL's doorstep following an unorthodox path, White has a deep appreciation for the destination. As he steps foot on the grass donning a Buccaneers' jersey, it is a memory of triumph over adversity and the motivation of fatherhood that persists.