Let me tell you some stories about telling Kevin White’s story, and we should begin at the start. When White enrolled at West Virginia in January 2013 and signed the following month, I did not know about the player. That’s unusual. I don’t follow recruiting all too closely, but I know who’s signing and then I’m searching for something to share on signing day. He was a late addition to the recruiting class, visiting and committing in December, and he had a weird run in junior college. Right away, White had my attention, but I didn’t have much else on him.
I asked about some people about him and came away with the idea he was a project who was there as a matter of convenience but also potential. There wasn’t much to him, and it was said that he could be good, if he so desired. Seemingly more important was that he could enroll in the spring semester and play spring football. That would give him an edge and WVU an advantage as both tried to replace Stedman Bailey outside. But it was clear to me that Mario Alford was the day’s better get, one pried from the claws of the Arizona Wildcats, and that he, in line to replace Tavon Austin inside, was the one to be more excited about, never mind he wouldn’t arrive until the eve of preseason camp. (If we’re being honest, more heed was paid to signing Ronald Carswell, who was once good enough for Alabama.)
To me, White was sort of fascinating and frustrating, sometimes all at once, from that point forward — and then the spring game happened, and he turned in the signature play. WVU rules kept him from speaking to the media during the spring, but there was no doubt he was a different specimen than all the other receivers. There would be some doubt about as to when or whether his potential would intersect with his capabilities, essentially because it had not yet happened. It came slowly in the fall. How many times did he fail to high-point a pass? How many times did he high-point a pass and not secure it? What good were these deep balls when they were 50-50 plays? How could you resist the temptation to send No. 11 deep and let him work?
He was injured early and he fumbled against Oklahoma (Aside: I’ll never get enough of Gabe Lynn bailing on Quinton Spain — twice!) He came on late in the season and found something with Clint Trickett, but we still didn’t know him or much about him.
He was irresistible in the following spring, when he flexed his muscle, literally if not figuratively, and dominated cornerbacks while looking like he was wearing a smaller uniform because he was just so big. When preseason practice started last summer, cornerback Daryl Worley told me that White made the fastest and easiest trips up law school hill. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone excited to talk about law school hill. Trickett raved about White’s desire to be great, about how the seeds were planted on a car ride they shared from Pennsylvania to campus and how Trickett’s invitation to pass and study whenever White wanted was actually driving Trickett crazy because White, it turned out, was relentless.
And then this happened, and this encounter between Kevin White and Karl Joseph opened my eyes to White like never before.
Joseph’s a bad man. He was a high school wrestler and he’s been a missile in college. He usually owns that drill. You wouldn’t know any of it, and that was riveting. Look at White. That’s his drill. That’s his space. That’s his field. Who’s messing with that guy?
So I was all in, and I tried to find out more and more about White, which was difficult. Here’s his media guid bio for his senior season, and tell me where or how you’d solve the mystery. You can’t. What happened in the other season(s) at Lackawanna College? What were his high school stats? When did he graduate from Emmaus? Who were his other scholarship offers? And why wasn’t any of that included? (This is not a critique. It’s further proof this came out of nowhere.)
White’s star would explode, of course, and I think it’s important to know that when we did get to know him, we were too caught up in how awesome he was and thus too busy to look into his background story. We’d get some of your many answers, either in time or in abundance, as he became a bigger deal and his story became harder to ignore, but it wasn’t a lot, and it certainly wasn’t everything.
Without ruining the big feature we have running tomorrow, understand he moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania before his freshman year of high school and moved again before his sophomore year. He didn’t start until his senior season at Emmaus and he redshirted because of a bum shoulder during his first year at Lackawanna. He was then out of school for a semester and then the best player on the team the following season.
And now he’s a first-round pick in the NFL draft? How did this happen?
Well, that Eric Thomas quote up top has something to do with it. It’s nestled into the big feature. What follows is not.
West Virginia knew it was losing Austin after the 2012 season before it started and then realized later in the season Bailey would skip his senior year and depart with Austin. WVU had a need for a receiver who could get with the program in spring practice, and that meant the coaching staff would hit junior colleges. Jake Spavital, then WVU’s quarterbacks coach and now the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, covered ASA College, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lackawanna. A year earlier, he’d gone there to sign Mark Glowinski, so the people there knew him, and he trusted their opinions.
Spavital had some questions about White’s time with — and away from — the Falcons, but those could be explained and concerns about his academics could be assuaged. Then there was a highlight reel, this highlight reel, that answered most everything else.
“Jeez,” Spavital told me. “He was obviously an overlooked kid. He’d only played the one year at Lackawanna, but he burst on the scene late that year and was starting to get noticed. You watched his tape and saw he progressed and saw, ‘Hey, this kid’s really big and really fast, and he’s right down the road from us.’ We were kind of desperate, but he looked like a kid you’d take in any scenario.”
Granted, everyone saw that tape when they decided to look at White. Not everyone saw the other piece of footage that came to convince people, people like Spavital, that White was no fluke.
Witness the box jump, or perhaps The Box Jump.
“That was one thing we did talk about,” Spavital said. “You go and evaluate kids everywhere, but you don’t see very many people that size box jump that height that easily. Right there, you could see the explosiveness that kid had. Then you took a look at him and saw he had big hands and a big body — all the intangibles were big on him.”
A box jump is one of those litmus tests that meets the eye, the sort of thing a lot of players in situations like White’s put together to advertise their agility. White was working out at FASST Performance, in Easton, Pa., at the time, filling that gap between his semester away from the school and his senior season.
It’s a special place for White and his story. It’s where and how he developed his breathtaking blend of athleticism and attitude.
Here’s the best part about this box jump. Players will prep for days or weeks for those moments. Consider all the time prospects put into their 40-yard dash at the combine. Look at videos like that one — and note White’s footwork or his younger brother Ka’Raun doing the flat-footed hurdles — and understand you can rehearse anything a number of times to make it easy. You would imagine that White put some time into the box jump before he put it on tape.
“We were screwing around,” said Jason Brader, who founded and owns the gym, who met White as a high school senior and who welcomed him back two years later. “I remember we were doing something else, and I was like, ‘Hey, you should give this a try.’ He just hopped up and did it. Everything he did was just so easy. He was awesome.”
Brader, a star running back at Lackawanna and a Division III all-American at Muhlenberg College, had the local stars from all the sports at his gym, athletes like Devin Street, a receiver now with the Dallas Cowboys who played for Pitt in college after winning a PIAA Class AAAA state title for the Lehigh Valley’s Liberty High. Street, a year older than White, was at Pitt when White was separated from his junior college and conquering the box jump, but Street was in the gym that day.
Street is no slouch, mind you. He was great in track and field in high school and won a bunch of sprint and long jump district titles. He even set his school and district record in the long jump at 24 feet, 6 inches — and Brader said it was the first time Street competed in the event.
“I knew Street was in the gym that day, so I said, ‘Hey, Kevin just jumped that, no sweat. You should try it,’ ” Brader said. “He missed it, and Street can jump, man. But he missed it, and I’m like, ‘Man, Kevin. This kid…’
“I can’t imagine what a cornerback thinks when he lines up across a guy that big, that strong and that fast who moves as well as Kevin does.”
You’d think that was clear by now, and maybe on the eve of the 2015 draft it is, but White still had to convince people following his senior season at WVU.
This won’t surprise you, but White’s people believe he’s a better player and a smarter selection than Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
“They talk about him and Cooper, and they say Cooper is more polished now, which is probably true. It’s probably true,” said Charles Grande, the receivers coach at Lackawanna. “But I think Cooper is near his ceiling. I think his ceiling is closing in. I think Kevin’s ceiling is much higher. I’m just telling you what I feel. He’s still kind of raw, but I think when you get him in an NFL camp and start working with him — and he’s going to work because the one thing he’s got is a tremendous work ethic — he’s going to take off.”
It’s easy to say these things and it’s hard to prove them until it’s time, and the only thing White could do to prove himself before the draft was to ace the combine. Out of the picky preamble grew this line of thinking: White would solidify his top-shelf status if he ran a 4.5 or better in the 40-yard dash.
White was piqued, to say the least. (We’re working in retrospect here, but when I asked White’s coaches, his trainer and his brothers about this theory earlier this month, thet responded not in words but in eye rolls. It was universal, and it was hilarious.)
“He knew,” said Mark Duda, the head coach at Lackawanna. “We get a lot of information from his brothers . They both play here. He knew how important it was going to be, from a financial standpoint, to do that.”
“We knew he was fast as hell, but we didn’t know how fast he was,” Duda said. “But he’s so damn big that he doesn’t look fast when he’s running fast. But there were all these parameters — if he runs under 4.5 then he’ll be this, if he doesn’t then he’ll be that — but the kid’s a really good football player. If he ran a 4.5, he’d still be a really good football player. Now he’s done everything they wanted him to do, and he’s a big dude running that fast who’s still going to be a really good football player.”
White was late to the party at Emmaus, the product of being in different schools in eighth, ninth and 10th grade. He was an eighth gradeer in middle school in Plainfield, N.J., but the family moved to Allentown, Pa., before White’s freshman year at Allen High. Plainfield was a violent place, and the parents didn’t believe it was smart to raise four kids there. Allentown was better, but a year later, the family moved again to Macungie, Pa.
“I was old enough to understand it, but I didn’t want to accept it,” said Kyzir White, one of White’s two brothers and three younger siblings. “Looking back on it, it was the best decision they could have ever made. It definitely took us down the right path.”
Kevin White’s brothers and his coaches, the ones who saw him in high school, junior college and at WVU, rave about the family, about the bond built under the many roofs, about the example set by the parents.
“After the combine, I talked to four NFL teams, and they’re telling me they want to know his background,” Grande said. “He doesn’t have any baggage. He’s got a great family, great parents. He’s a great kid. I can’t tell you anything. What I can tell you is he’s a good kid who was involved in all sorts of activities here. I love the kid. He’s a good kid. So I told him about all that, and he said, ‘Coach, they can go back to grade school. I never got kicked out of class. I never got suspended.’
“And I believe him. His mother would kill him.”
White started from the bottom at Emmaus High, and his coach, Joe Bottiglieri, told me White “was not very good,” something nobody else ever told me. But he was behind older players and players his age, all who went through the feeder system. He was a headline player when he finally secured a starting spot as a senior, and White had a gigantic game and he made a gigantic play in two of the Green Hornets’ best games that season. When the all-conference teams were announced, White was included, though in a manner that might surprise you. (Lots of talent on that team, by the way.)
He didn’t have FBS offers, and FCS schools like Maine would kick the tires while White would eschew invitations from Division II or Division III programs, like Wesley College in Delaware, and from junior colleges west of the Mississippi because he didn’t want to be that far from home.
Lackawanna was close, but its coaches declined pleas from White, Brader and Bottiglieri. Every time, the Falcons said the roster was full. Their opinion changed the day they made a visit, one that was only possible because Grande was in the area doing his full-time job as a field case manager for a workers’ comp company.
This is video from the day the Lackawanna visited in 2010, and you can see Grande in the white on the right at the 13 second mark, likely trying to contain his enthusiasm. White was invited up a few days later, and the rest is history.
“We got to meet him, and he seemed like a really nice kid,” Duda said. “He’d look at you when he’d talk to you and he wouldn’t look down when you talked to him.”
A shoulder injury White suffered readying for a high school all-star game hadn’t completely healed when he arrived at Lackawanna, and he ended up redshirting so he could develop properly but also so that he wouldn’t waste a season playing behind older receivers.
That’s not easy, especially for someone like White who believed — I should probably say he knew — he was a big-time talent. The saying at Lackawanna is that junior college is a great way, but it’s also a hard way. You must have a specific constitution to make it. It’s a place that demands the most from players and doesn’t have time for people who don’t have regard for what’s expected of them. And that’s why college programs, like WVU, like the place so much. White only completed four classes his first semester at Lackawanna, which is enough to be a full-time student, but not enough to get ahead. He made the most of his second semester and then screwed up a paperwork filing before his second season. He spent that fall semester in 2011 at home taking classes at a community college.
When he returned in the spring semester, he was a different student. That, it must be mentioned, preceded the change into a different player.
What I took away from the day I spent at Lackawana was how much those people believed White could not fail. They insisted he was a motivated student who crammed himself into tiny work spaces for long hours, who searched for tutors and useful text books, who took 18 credit hours on campus and one online class while he played his one and final season so he could graduate on time and transfer to WVU in January.
And step back for a moment here: Mark Duda said about half of his first-year players who redshirt don’t come back for the second year. Many don’t make the second semester. Denise Duda — they’re married, which is a clever arrangement because nobody there is sidestepping Mrs. Duda, lest word get back to the head coach — said “hardly any” players come back from an enrollment break. Bottiglieri, experienced as a prep and college coach, said he’d never head of such a story. White pushed through both barriers and not only caught up in the classroom but got ahead.
The eventual base for my story — that after a day on campus with his coaches, brothers and a counselor, a second day in Lehigh Valley talking to Brader and Bottiglieri and some other locals who knew of White and suspected they didn’t remember him, plus umpteen phone calls to people I didn’t even get around to quoting — left me with more than 20 typed pages of notes.
Where do you begin?
What I found as I asked myself that again and again and as others wondered what I was going to do and what struck me the most was that there is a long line of people who helped helped White, who wanted to see him make it, who are proud of what he’s done, who are giddy to see what he does next. This isn’t just a good football player. This is a good guy who deserves tomorrow night and everything that follows it.
As such, there are some strong feelings that push back against what is perceived to be White’s ego. It’s come up when NFL people have vetted White, and they wonder what it means, where it comes from and how it might affect him or the team’s investment in him. That’s fair, but it feels unfounded.
“People say he talks trash,” Bottligieri said. “A couple of our coaches said to me, ‘Hey, Kevin was on TV getting interviewed the other day. Did you hear him? He said, “I can block, I can catch, I can do it all.” ‘ Well, yeah. He’s a very confident kid, and rightfully so. But he’s not an arrogant or cocky kid.”
To many, it just seems like another rock to throw his way and see if it leaves a mark that might make him unappealing. To many, it’s basically the 40 time all over again.
“What do people say about him?” Mark Duda said. “They say he’s a physical specimen and he needs to become a better route runner. They say he needs to make his reads better. You don’t think he will? When you get to know the kid, you realize it’s like all the trials and tribulations along the way, maybe they did make him a better player. They made him a tougher player. That’s why he’s such an unbelievably tenacious blocker. Maybe that’s why he’s so damn competitive.
“People have been telling him all along how he’s not going to make it. ‘You’re going the juco route. You were redshirted. You’re going to West Virginia and there’s nobody to throw you the ball.’ And his response has been, ‘Maybe I’ll just be the best player on the field and let the rest take care of itself.’
“His defiance on the field is taken the wrong way because people don’t know him. They think he’d defiant because he has long dreads and because he seems cocky. He just wants to beat the guy across from him, and he’s not afraid to show it. I don’t think it’s defiance. I think it’s confidence, and I think there’s a big difference between the two.”
This is not to say he’s a finished product. He’s not, but at 22 that’s still part of the appeal. He’s this good, he’s rated this highly, and he has so much more do to do improve his craft.
“He still pigeon-toes his inside foot,” Grande said. “He did it here. He still does it. I want to punch him in the face. Because he’s such a big kid, he tries to get lower in his stance, and some big guys put their foot all the way back and they lose that first step. He always did pump his arms right when he goes into his break. Most high school kids coming out don’t pump their arms going into their breaks.
“But he worked on all that and he got better at all that, and once he learns a system, he’ll get better running routes. Kevin’s a good learner. He’s interested in getting better. He did whatever I asked him to do, and it was no hassle whatsoever. He has no ego about getting better.”
Stories about White are fun to hear and fun to tell. Like, last summer, he hit the weights so hard that WVU was worried he was hitting them too hard. Remember last spring, when he looked so swoll we thought he was wearing small clothes? Well, he didn’t stop and in the summer was up at 218 pounds. His body fat was under 4 percent. The strength and conditioning staff had to cool him off for fear he might do some damage.
And the good news is we’re not done telling stories about the Whites. Ka’Raun, who you see above, will be here soon. He’s 21, he’s going to play and he’s going to look familiar. As surreal as Kevin’s tale is, you haven’t heard Ka’Raun’s. Yet.
“It’s more of actually a story than Kevin’s is,” said Josh Pardini, the offensive line coach, run game coordinator and offensive recruiting coordinator at Lackawanna.
Kyzir is 19 and is put together better than White was at the same juncture and than Ka’Raun is right now. He’s a safety who played as a true freshman and made third-team all conference. (Aside: Check out the defensive MVP. He’s coming to WVU’s campus over the summer, too. Nassau and Lackawanna played this past season and Ka’Raun, Kyzir and Rasul Douglas all had a day.) He has offers from WVU, Pitt, Louisville and Arizona State, and more are on the way.
As for the Mountaineers, that offer, which came the same day WVU offered Ka’Raun, “definitely means a lot.”
“It’s a program that gave both my brothers a chance to do what they love, so that definitely plays a huge part in it,” Kyzir said. “It was also my first offer, and I know a lot of schools will see that West Virginia offered and say, ‘Oh, he must be a good player,’ but they were first.”
The most touted and most recruited player in the household is on the way, though. Kiyae White is a 6-foot-2 star for the Emmaus girls’ basketball team.
“I’m not saying she’s the best, because I think I’m the best, but she’s really good,” Kyzir said.
She has letters from scores of major college programs, including WVU, and she’s making a name in track and field. She can’t dunk — yet, and Kyzir things that’s only a matter of time — but she’s the slam dunk of the group because she’s the only one who’s gotten major college attention early in her high school career and she has three leads to follow.
“If you want a person who plays real physical defense, you’ll look at her,” Kyzir said. “It you want a leader, you’ll look at her. She’s playing big man right now in high school, because she’s the tallest player on her team, but she’s just really physical, really athletic and she can just jump out of the gym. You’re not going to see many girls who can jump like her and who are aggressive like her. She’s just a very good all-around player.”
In addition to the many thanks to the people who spoke to me, who pointed me in specific directions and who helped me put this together, thanks to Mr. Brader for his videos and thanks to Mrs. Duda for the Lackawanna photos. There’s nothing wrong with thanking everyone involved by sharing this post on the web.