Su­per Bowl hero James White has a his­tory of com­ing up big

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

FORT LAUD­ERDALE, FLA.

James White was not the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ fea­tured run­ning back when Su­per Bowl 51 started.

As White has proven be­fore, that was ir­rel­e­vant.

In 2009, White was a se­nior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida. He was a starter for the peren­nial state and na­tional pow­er­house but wasn’t con­sid­ered the go-to ball car­rier. That role was held by Gio­vanni Bernard, now of the Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

“Gio was more the tail­back, and a lot of times we changed our sets so we could use both of them,” said St. Thomas Aquinas ath­letic di­rec­tor Ge­orge Smith, the school’s foot­ball coach when White was a se­nior. “But when Gio was hurt in his se­nior year and couldn’t play, James took a whole dif­fer­ent path. He be­came the deal.”

When the Pa­tri­ots needed him Sun­day night, White was the deal again.

He set Su­per Bowl records by scor­ing 20 points and mak­ing 14 catches for 110 yards. He had two rush­ing touch­downs, in­clud­ing the game-winner in over­time as the Pa­tri­ots came back from 25 points down and stunned the At­lanta Fal­cons 34-28 for the fran­chise’s fifth Lom­bardi Tro­phy.

“Isn’t he great?” Smith asked.

Ap­par­ently, Tom Brady thinks so.

Be­fore the Pa­tri­ots left Hous­ton for home on Mon­day, Brady sug­gested White should have been MVP — the award that the Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back re­ceived for a record fourth time.

“I think James White de­serves it,” Brady said. “It’d be nice for him.”

White re­ally started mak­ing an im­pact with the Pa­tri­ots last sea­son, when Dion Lewis got hurt. More than half of his touches in the Su­per Bowl came in the fourth quar­ter or over­time, when New Eng­land was des­per­ately try­ing to find some­thing that worked.

Such has been his ca­reer tra­jec­tory — he’s al­ways been con­sid­ered good on what­ever team he’s with, whether it was St. Thomas Aquinas or Wis­con­sin for col­lege or New Eng­land now. But the real ap­pre­ci­a­tion of White, at all three of those places, has come in the mo­ments when he’s been called upon to take on a big­ger role.

“White is like my old­est son,” Brady said. “He just does ev­ery­thing right and you can never get mad at him be­cause even if he doesn’t make the play, he feels worse about it than you do, you know? He’s just the best team­mate. He’s an in­cred­i­ble player . ... I’m so proud of him and ev­ery­thing he’s ac­com­plished. I’ve seen him grow from a rookie to work­ing his tail off to be­come a big fac­tor in all these games.”

There’s a bit of irony that White’s big­gest NFL mo­ment came against At­lanta.

Had things gone a lit­tle dif­fer­ently eight years ago, White might be call­ing At­lanta home.

He was a stand­out cen­tre fielder for St. Thomas Aquinas, bat­ting first or sec­ond in the or­der and mak­ing bases­teal­ing look easy. The scouts came knock­ing, ones from the Braves in par­tic­u­lar. And White se­ri­ously con­sid­ered pur­su­ing baseball in­stead of foot­ball.

“Al­ways was on time, al­ways had his home­work, worked hard to get his grade, al­ways got his A,” said Ed Wa­ters, who was his high school baseball coach and also taught him Amer­i­can his­tory and gov­ern­ment. “Sounds too good to be true, but he def­i­nitely is in that cat­e­gory.”

They’ve been us­ing White as an ex­am­ple for cur­rent stu­dents at St. Thomas Aquinas for some time — long be­fore he en­tered Su­per Bowl lore.

And that will con­tinue. They’re hop­ing to get White on cam­pus for a rally with the school’s 2,200 stu­dents later this week, once things like Tues­day’s pa­rade in Bos­ton are com­pleted.

“He did what­ever we wanted here,” Smith said. “He was un­be­liev­able.”

The Pa­tri­ots would say the same.

AP PHOTO/PA­TRICK SEMANSKY

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ James White runs for a touch­down as At­lanta Fal­cons’ Deion Jones at­tempts to de­fend dur­ing over­time of the NFL Su­per Bowl 51 foot­ball game against the At­lanta Fal­cons, Sun­day, in Hous­ton. The Pa­tri­ots de­feated the Fal­cons 34-28.

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