One ill-advised decision continues to follow North Fort Myers High running back Zaquandre White around. The punch he threw at a South Fort Myers High player during a preseason game last August not only cost him a five-game suspension and a shot a memorable 2015 season, but the mistake has carried with it some very unflattering labels.
Immature. Lack of control. Bad attitude.
White spent plenty of time on a mea culpa media tour, answering questions about the punch, showing contrition and vowing to learn from it. However, it was when all the cameras and microphones disappeared that the senior could turn his words into actions.
Over the last six months, White hasn’t sought to repair his image in the public eye. Behind closed doors, he wants to become the best teammate he can be.
The Florida State commit, who is ranked No. 1 on The News-Press and Naples Daily News’ Big 15 list, whether he knew anyone was watching or not, has shown judging someone at their worst is misguided.
“I’m moving forward,” White said. “I’ve committed myself to my team.I would never do anything else to hurt them.”
White’s suspension helped derail a much-hyped North’s season and even nearly 1,000 rushing yards and seven touchdowns from him to end the season wasn’t enough to get the Red Knights into the playoffs. A four-star recruit ranked a top-10 back in the country, White knows he has a lot of making up to do and he enters the season in the best shape of his life, sporting a 4.53-second 40-yard dash time, a 40.5-inch vertical leap and he squats 515 pounds.
When volatile situations arose during the spring, as they did in North’s spring game with Sarasota Riverview, White displayed an unflappable attitude that will benefit him during his senior year. The 6-foot, 203-pound back was on the receiving end of a late hit out of bounds on the Riverview sideline similar to the one he took against South. A penalty flag was thrown and, unlike last season, White stood up and ran back to the huddle, paying the defender no mind.
“That’s the new me,” White said. “Back to the huddle. Lets’s go. Let’s keep it going.”
Knowing full well the expectation is that he will self-destruct at the slightest bit of trash talk, White has become deaf to the taunts of linebackers and safeties alike.
“You just tell them, ‘Alright, I’ll get you on the next play,'” he explained.
North coach Earnest Graham, a former University of Florida and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, understands all the drama that takes place between the lines and how hard it is to ignore. However, he sees the change in White every day.
“What he brings each and every day is a certain type of intensity, a kind of exuberance,” Graham said. “Being able to come in and settle himself, it’s a practice. He’s balancing himself well. He’s focused on what the coaches want from him and what his teammates want from him and the rest takes care of itself.”
The biggest challenge will be letting go of the idea that he alone has to carry the entire team to a District 6A-10 title or even a regional championship as some have predicted.
With offensive weapons at every position, he doesn’t have to do that.
As a trendy pick to make some noise this season once again, White said he and his teammates aren’t paying any attention.
“We’re not trying to let it get to our heads,” he said. “We know North is hyped. We’re just focused.”
Another issue that will be hanging over White’s head until February will be where he will be playing at the next level. The answer may seem simple. He’s been verbally committed to FSU for nearly two years.
“I’m still firmly committed Florida State,” White said. “I think I should take other visits, though.”
He plans to take official visits to Auburn and Florida as well as FSU.
His recruitment is secondary at this point, though. White won’t let anything derail his senior season.
The Big 15
The News-Press and Naples Daily News counted down the top football recruits in Southwest Florida every Tuesday and Friday leading up to the start of high school football season. The Big 15 features players going into their junior and senior years from Lee and Collier counties, with respect paid to those with hard scholarship offers and those without who possess great potential.
The Next 15
16. George Takacs, TE, Gulf Coast: The 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior has had a great spring, picking up offers from Florida, Minnesota, Iowa State, North Carolina State and South Florida.