TEMPE – Are superheroes real? The Arizona State football team believes it has one as part of its offensive arsenal.
Senior Rachaad White does it all for the Sun Devils. In four games this season, he leads the team in rushing (256) and receiving (187) yards.
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels compared White’s playing style to All-Pro NFL running back Christian McCaffrey.
“You can’t really gameplan for those types of people,” Daniels said. “He’s such a good runner, patient runner out the backfield. He can hurt you.”
His mother must have foreseen his talents. A D.C. Universe character inspired “Kyelle,” his middle name
“I named him after Superman’s Krypton name (Kal-El),” Rochelle Woods said. “I used to watch Cartoon Networks when I was pregnant with him all the time. So I put the E-L-L-E in his middle name.”
The Sun Devils will need Superman at his best Saturday as they face off against Pac-12 South opponent UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Both teams are going into this game 3-1 and playing for the top spot in their division.
The running back’s journey to ASU was far from easy, but his hard work, faith and determination helped him get here.
White grew up in a single-parent home in Kansas City, Missouri, the youngest of four boys.
Woods drove a school bus while working to earn her college degree. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Central Missouri and her master’s degree from the University of Missouri, both in social work.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Woods said. “I wasn’t alone in doing the raising, I would say, I did have my village. But we had our moments where it was real difficult and, you know, we hit hard spots, and then we had our moments where we were up, and things were pretty good.”
The Woods house was usually the hangout for the boys’ friends, which means she had multiple kids from different families in her house at one time.
One day, Woods had a conversation with an older woman at work, about always being tired because she frequently had so many kids in her house. The woman told her, “It’s best for the friends to come over to your house. That way, you know what’s going on then, for your kids to go to their house where you don’t know what’s going on.” Woods said that’s when she embraced being, “The neighborhood mom.”
On one occasion, there were 33 kids sleeping over at her house.
She wanted her boys to have positive male role models in their lives and enrolled them in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Kansas City.
Fourteen years ago, John Waller, who was in his mid-20s, met an 8-year-old White for the first time. Waller joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program with a desire to become more involved in the community.
When he walked into their house years ago, Rachaad White stood out immediately.
“There’s this young man sitting on the couch,” Waller said. “He was smiling from ear to ear when I walked in. He was really excited to be in the program.”
The requirement in the program is to spend at least one hour with your “little” a week, Waller said. They usually surpassed that time. They played sports together like football, basketball and swimming, and Waller said he taught White how to pitch in baseball.
White was both a quick learner and a natural athlete.
Although Waller moved to Chicago about two years after he met White, their bond never broke.
“I had like this vision in my mind ever since I first met him when he was 8 (that) I got to like see this through … until he graduates high school. And you know obviously that happened, and I was super emotional on his high school graduation,” Waller said. “There’s no way you would ever shut a relationship off like this. It’s just been so gratifying and helpful for me, too.”
As he got older, White was a standout player on the basketball court and the football field at Center High School.
But with talent, animosity and jealousy followed.
White had a gun pulled on him on two occasions over a disagreement on the basketball court, = his mom said, one time at the community center and another time on a park court close to where they lived.
Between his sophomore and junior years of high school, White decided that he wanted to focus on football.
He ended up signing with Division II University of Nebraska Kearney.
After his freshman year, White considered transferring to Mt. San Antonio College in California. White believed this was the path he needed to take to play Division 1.
Woods called a family meeting because she initially didn’t want him to transfer schools. After all, he would be so far from home.
“I tried to call all my family and tried to talk him out of it. … I was like if he’s that talented, then they’ll find you,” Woods said. “You know, scouts will find you at the Division II college.”
Her main concern was that he would be alone in California. She didn’t want him to go somewhere that far on his own.
He followed his heart and stuck with his decision. Woods said she is proud of him for it, and she is also proud he decided to go to Arizona State.
At Mt. SAC, White walked into a situation with a crowded backfield. Between his freshman and sophomore years, the running back room was packed, coach Bob Jastrab said.
By his sophomore year, White’s play separated him from the group, and he earned the starting spot. “I think he could see the transformation or the growth of knowing, ‘Hey, this is my job, and I’m going to make sure I make the most of my opportunity,’ and he did,” Jastrab said.
In his 11 games played at Mt. SAC, White rushed for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns.
If you ask Jastrab, he will tell you that White’s playing style reminds him of a different Kansas City running back: Marcus Allen.
Allen played the latter half of his Hall of Fame career with the Kansas Chiefs, but he was also a versatile running back that successfully caught passes out of the backfield in the 1980s and ’90s.
“He is just so smooth, sees the holes, and then when he needs to accelerate, he accelerates. … He doesn’t look like he’s running (fast), but nobody can catch him,” Jastrab said.
Jastrab has been the head coach at Mt. SAC for 16 years, but he has worked at the school in some capacity since 2000. White is one of the top five hardest workers he has ever coached, he said, and his players included NFL linebacker Bruce Irvin and ASU defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce.
Saturday’s game will be a reminder of what could have been. White was committed to UCLA. Before signing day, they decided to part ways. White then chose Arizona State.
So far, White has had a successful run at ASU. In eight games, he has 16 touchdowns, 676 rushing yards and 338 receiving
The only game White has not scored a touchdown in was last year’s matchup against UCLA.
Saturday’s game is no sure thing as UCLA has the top rush defense in the Pac-12, allowing 64 yards per game.
ASU’s rushing offense averages 210 yards per game and is the second-ranked rushing offense in the Pac-12.
“Honestly, the truth, I don’t pay attention to stats,” White said. “The only stat column I pay attention to, like I tell y’all … is a win or a loss.”