Zaquandre White has astounded his parents on the football field for 10 of his 17 years.
“That’s just who he is,” Dorothy White said of her youngest of five sons. “He has God-given talent. He doesn’t brag about it. He doesn’t boast about it. He’s just being Zaquandre.”
White hopes to position himself to amaze many more and on a much grander stage. The calendar has turned to 2016, and time is moving the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior running back toward his senior high school football season.
For now, White is bounding down the basketball court for the North Fort Myers Red Knights. He seems to run with springs in his legs, bouncing forward and leaping for rebounds or layups.
“I’d probably be the next Michael Jordan, honestly,” a smiling White said during a recent basketball practice.
But the true love for this Florida State University recruit revolves around football.
White eyes his senior season with intensity, especially after missing half of his junior season while serving a six-week suspension for throwing a punch during a preseason game.
“I hurt my team,” White said. “I let them down.”
Since then, White said he has tried to make amends. On the field, he rushed for 956 yards in five games, including a 372-yard, five-touchdown, 23-carry performance against Cape Coral on Oct. 30 in which he averaged 16.1 yards per carry. But outside of receiving those direct snaps and handoffs, bursting forward and sometimes backward, shaking off defenders and moving forward again, making amends hasn’t been easy.
“In practice, coach tries to get in my head to see what I’m going to do,” White said. “One time, I got mad, and coach said, “Fine, then you’re going to have to sit out.’ So I sat out for a couple of plays.”
That coach, retired NFL running back Earnest Graham, knows what it’s like to be regarded as one of the state’s top high school football recruits. Graham was Florida’s Mr. Football in 1997 and White will strive to earn similar acclaim this year.
Learning from the past
White takes more after his father than his mother. Zach White, 46, owns a commercial cleaning business and has been married to Dorothy for almost 21 years.
Zach White grew up near the “old projects” of Willin Street in Fort Myers, an area so violent the housing authority had it demolished. Dorothy grew up in Southward Village, a housing project next door to the STARS Complex, off Edison Avenue.
The elder White said he grew up fighting on the streets of Fort Myers and in the hallways of his high school. For every punch his son has thrown on a football field – one – his father said he threw dozens in his youth, getting expelled from Cypress Lake High School in the mid-1980s for fighting.
“Growing up,” Zach White said, “I had to fight to survive.”
The father said he learned from those mistakes in his late 20s and moved his family to Cape Coral six months after Zaquandre’s Dec. 21, 1998 birth, looking for a fresh start.
“I’m so thankful for my dad,” White said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
The father raised the son, steering him to avoid the problems he faced as a youth, only to watch as his son threw that preseason punch.
“He never had to sit out a game before,” Zach White said. “It showed him a lot. It showed him that actions have consequences. What you do in one day can affect you 30 years from now. It was bittersweet, but it happened at the right time in his life, before he went to college or on to the NFL.
“Just because you are good doesn’t mean you can get away with that kind of stuff. I think he learned a lot from it. I think he grew a lot from it.”
Zach White entrusted Graham to be extra tough on his son. Zaquandre White transferred from Island Coast to North Fort Myers after his freshman year.
“I’m tough on him,” Graham said. “I’m tough on him in ways people don’t even know, to be honest with you. It helps that he comes from a good family. There’s a relationship there, where I’m able to be that much tougher, because I’m backed by his parents.
“For the most part, he has responded very well. He has his own personality. He has his own hurdles in life. He’s young and very talented and a fiery, competitive kid. That’s a lot to handle at 16 years old. Some things happened that he didn’t want to. It’s a growth process.”
White said he was “100 percent” sure he would not get ejected from a game again.
Looking to the future
White wants to set records. Graham has encouraged him to do so.
“I make no bones about it,” Graham said. “Talent-wise, he’s as good as it gets. They don’t make them that much better. I compare him to Ricky Watters or LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s his receiving skills that make him so great.”
Two rushing records are within White’s realm of talent. On Oct. 6, 2006, Cypress Lake’s Tyson Butler rushed for a Lee County, single-game record 439 yards.
In 1990, Bishop Verot’s Dwayne Thomas rushed for a Lee County, single-season record 2,672 yards. In a 10-game season, Zaquandre White would have to average 268 yards per game in order to top that. He remains undaunted.
“So next season, I’ll just stay focused and have my mind right and go out there and play every game,” White said. “Records will be broken. Records will definitely be broken. Later in life, I can come back and see my name up there, and then someone else can come along and try to break my record, too. I want to leave a legacy at North Fort Myers High.”