White has been all heart since deciding to return at Upper Darby

UPPER DARBY — When he was a junior, Upper Darby’s Kevin White never had much to say. The Royals were flush with senior leadership in 2013, so White kept quiet, did his job on the football field and earned All-Delco honors as a defensive back.

“When he talked,’ coach Rich Gentile said, “it was a surprise.’

A year later, White could remain a confident, silent type all he wanted because his coaches believed in and trusted his talent. He was going to be one of the anchors of the defense and lead by example for the young players.

A personal loss, though, altered White’s path going into his senior year.

The passing of his father, Kevin, left White questioning his loyalty to the game and doubting whether he should return. He wasn’t at summer camp in August. The Royals were making plans to play the season without one of their best players.

White was “pretty close’ to his father, who lived in his native Jamaica.

“He wasn’t here all the time. He’d come back and forth sometimes, but he was pretty much always in Jamaica,’ White said.

White had to be at home for his mom and sisters and work to help support his family. His heart, understandably, wasn’t in football.

As the weeks went by, however, White realized that what he was doing didn’t feel right. And he felt awful for letting his teammates down.

“Everyone was telling me just to play for my dad,’ he said. “That’s what I did. I got a lot of support from my teammates. I wanted to be there for them.’

In the days leading up to the season opener against Bonner-Prendergast, White, the young man with not a lot to say, spoke to his teammates from the heart.

“To his credit, and this is how I knew how much he matured, he came to the guys before the Bonner game and addressed the team,’ Gentile said. “He apologized for being absent and how he is a senior and one of the leaders on the team, but wasn’t acting like it. That was the first I heard more than four sentences come out of his mouth.’

White just wanted his boys to know that he had their backs.

“I think maybe one night it dawned on him that football could all go away and he can’t let that happen,’ Gentile said. “More people were shocked just listening to him because he doesn’t say anything.’

The Royals lost to Bonner-Prendie that week, but White had an incredible game. He had an interception, but was in position to have as many as four. He was a blanket on the Bonner-Prendie’s best receiver.

White is a physical cornerback and he dislikes dropping back in zone coverage. Most teams respect how good he is and don’t dare throw his way.

“I’ve been doing a lot — sticking tight ends this year, sticking to big receivers,’ he said. “I jam up. I can’t play off. I do, but I don’t like to because it’s like giving them a little catch for like five yards, and I don’t like that.’

Gentile has admired the way White has become a vocal leader on defense — someone the juniors and underclassmen can look up to.

“This year he’s stepped up and in situations that have not gone our way, he’s been one of the guys that has said what needed to be said. When he wants to talk, he does,’ Gentile said. “The kids know he can play the game and they respect him. Every now and then he’ll come in, the kids will shut up and they’ll listen to what he has to say. It’s not anything earth-shattering. A lot of it is, ‘˜I’m going to do the best that I can do. I promise I’ll do all that I can to win this game and all I’ll ask of you is to do the same.”

White knew the Royals would be hard-pressed to repeat last year’s success, when the team finished 8-4 and ended a long playoff drought. But he’s proud of the way everyone has stuck together. At 4-4 with two weeks to go before the District One Class AAAA playoffs, the Royals need to win out, starting with tonight’s game at Conestoga (6-2), but their chances of making the tournament would remain slim.

“Last year was a heck of team. We started off 1-2 and went on a run. It was a good time,’ he said. “This year was kind of like that at first, but we’re playing for us right now. We know we gotta keep winning.”

After everything he’s been through, White can smile. Football was his outlet when things got real tough, even if at first, he didn’t realize. He hopes the experiences will lead to bigger and brighter moments.

“I’ve been proud of myself,’ he said. “When I graduate, I want to be the first person in my family to go to college. That’s what I really want.’

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