Jaheir White has been a dedicated member of the Hudson Catholic football program ever since he entered the school a little more than three years ago.
“Since the first day I saw Jaheir play,” Hudson Catholic head coach Lou Zampella recalled, “he’s always been a good football player. I knew he had the potential to be a special player for us. He was always a good two-way player for us. He always had very good speed.”
There was another trait about White that stood out. Despite his diminutive size (5-foot-7, 165 pounds), White was an extremely physical player. If he ran with the ball your way, you knew he was coming. If you were going to be hit by a member of the Hawks’ secondary, you were going to feel it.
“Instead of pushing it outside, I wanted to be more physical,” White said. “I’m better at running inside. And if I get through the line in the middle, then no one can catch me.”
“He’s very physical,” Zampella said. “He doesn’t try to shy away from contact. Most runners try to just run. Jaheir is more physical. He’s a very tough kid. Everything he takes is a physical run.”
White likes to model his game after a recently retired running back that became famous during his days with the Seattle Seahawks.
“I like Marshawn Lynch a lot,” White said. “He’s a power back who runs people over. He’s very physical and I’m physical too. He can do whatever he wants.”
Lynch was beloved by Seahawk fans because he used to eat the popular candy Skittles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lynch used to get showered by Skittles on the field during games, especially after he scored touchdowns, and he would give bags of Skittles to Seahawk fans after games.
Lynch was also known for his unique nickname. He called his running style and personality as “Beastmode,” a slogan, a motto, that emerged as a popular football name all across the country.
Because of his style and determination, White was selected to be a team captain this season for the Hawks of Hudson Catholic, who entered the 2019 season with high hopes and expectations.
But the Hawks sputtered mightily out of the gates this year, losing their first five games.
Zampella said that the team was lacking leadership.
“We had some heartbreaking losses,” Zampella said. “But we told them that the season wasn’t over. We told the kids that we can play at MetLife [Stadium, in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state championship]. We said it would be a great story if we started 0-5 and made the state finals. We pushed the kids to just keep playing hard.”
And Zampella needed to get on White a little.
“Jaheir wasn’t always the greatest teammate,” Zampella said. “When adversity struck, he would run away. I didn’t think he had leadership qualities. So we gave him a lot of tough love.”
The coaches’ message hit home with the senior captain.
“I had to start acting like a senior and a captain,” White said. “I thought we had a good team and could do big things down the line. We had some minor setbacks, but we had an amazing story to tell. Coach Z [Zampella] and Coach [Chris] Johnston kept reminding me about my senior leadership. I had to step up and do my job. That motivated me. At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t the leader I should have been.”
But before the Hawks faced Bayonne in a critical game Oct. 11, White had a sit-down discussion with his mother.
“She told me that I had to get it in my mind that I’m the captain of the team and I had to lead,” White said. “I knew I had to step it up. The whole week [prior to facing Bayonne], I was on the team to step it up. I knew we were better than what we were showing. We had to do something.”
White was the dominant force as the winless Hawks shocked the undefeated Bees, 33-30.
“That Bayonne game turned the season around,” Zampella said. “He turned the corner as a player and a person. He took more responsibility. A lot of kids would have quit on an 0-5 team, but Jaheir wouldn’t let it happen. He developed from a mediocre teammate and leader to what we wanted as a senior.”
Last week, the Hawks destroyed Morris Catholic, 42-14, for their second win of the season. White did a little bit of everything in the win. He rushed for 136 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns on offense. On defense, White made seven tackles, had four pass break-ups, forced one fumble and collected one interception.
For his efforts, White has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Zampella is especially proud of White and his transformation.
“He’s what we want the younger kids to become,” Zampella said. “He will have a lot of the younger kids looking up to him.”
And get this: Despite their 2-6 record, the Hawks are currently the No. 3 seed in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 playoff standings and if the season ended today, they would get a home game in the state playoffs against the No. 6 seed – none other than Morris Catholic, the team that the Hawks just manhandled.
“I feel better about the way we’ve been playing,” White said. “I just knew we were better than what we were showing. The Bayonne game set the tone and the seniors stepped up and led the team. We started acting like seniors and captains.”
White would love to play college football next fall.
“It was always my dream to play college football,” said White, a Jersey City native and a product of the Jersey City Gators youth program. “I’d love to get a chance.”
“We will find a spot where he can play college football,” Zampella said. “He’s going to play because he’s a special kid, especially with his speed.”
So maybe it’s time to unleash the “Jaheir-Mode.”
“I like the way that sounds,” White said. “I can handle that.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com