By Brian Paglia
Last February, on National Signing Day, Union Grove sat down seven of its football players at a long, rectangular table. They wore clean slacks, a crisp dress shirt with a tie and the baseball hat of the college that offered them the chance to continue playing football. Cameras flashed and parents stood near with beaming countenance.
Danny White was not among them. His path to college football required more patience and persistence, and a little bit of modern-day recruiting savvy. But he got there. White accepted a scholarship offer to Carson-Newman, a Division II program in Jefferson City, Tenn., with alumni in the NFL and a 30-year head coach.
White officially enrolled on Jan. 4. He immediately began lifting weights with the team. Soon after he attend his first team meeting.
So far it's everything he dreamed of.
"It's great," White said. "Everybody's nice. The football program is unreal. The weight room and locker room are awesome. The football field's artifical turf."
White is 5 feet 11 and weighs 170 pounds. He has orange hair -- just like his parents -- and simple eyes. He played for three different coaches at Union Grove as a wide receiver, defensive back and returner on special teams. After his senior season, White received an offer from Morehead State and was in talks with coaches from West Georgia, but he didn't qualify academically.
"He wanted to play straight out of high school, and he had a few offers back then coming out of school," Johnny White, Danny's father, said. "He had Morehead State offering him. He talked to West Georgia a little bit. Then he found out his GPA didn't qualify him to get into these schools. He was a little heart-broken."
Then came a fortuitous intersection for White. County coaches organized the first Henry County All-Star Football Game, which would feature only seniors, preferably ones with their college football future still undecided. Ones like White.
Coaches from college programs around the state, like Fort Valley State, attended the all-star game. So did the Cobb Saints, a start-up prep academy in Marietta, and the Saints' defensive coordinator Erasmus Harvey, who owns Elite Performer Sports, a recruitment marketing company.
White joined the Saints this past fall as they competed against college junior varsity teams. He scored three touchdowns as a wide receiver, spent time at defensive back and took two classes at Chattahoochee Tech to get his grades up.
At the conclusion of the season, Harvey produced a video of White's best moments from Union Grove and with the Saints for $250 and mailed copies to colleges across the country. He created a web page for White on Elite Performer Sports' website, which college coaches could access to contact White.
"If it wasn't for Harvey, I don't know if Danny would've gotten out there or not," Johnny said.
"Without him I would've never known about Carson-Newman," Danny said.
Indeed, Danny promptly received offers from William Penn, Northeastern Oklahoma State and Carson-Newman. Proximity led the Whites to visit Carson-Newman on Dec. 5, a Baptist liberal arts school. There they met the Eagles' head coach of 30 straight seasons, Ken Sparks, who said all the things White's father wanted to hear.
"What sold us is the first thing that came out of Coach Sparks' mouth was, 'God's first, your education's second and football is third. If you keep on that route, you'll be fine here,'" Johnny said. "That right there stuck in my mind right off the bat, because the way society is nowadays, I wanted to get him to where he's closest to the Lord."
On Jan. 4, one month later, Johnny, his wife, Betty, and Danny drove up to Carson-Newman. They helped him move into his dorm room in Heritage Hall. Then they drove back to their home in Stockbridge without their youngest son.
"It was real emotional," Johnny said. "We were real excited for him, because we realized we got him where he wanted to be. But at the same time, we realize he's not going to be around us. That was hard. Especially for mom."
But it was easy for them to give their son another chance at a signing day; to approach coaches -- strangers with broad shoulders and deep voices -- and strike up a conversation about Danny; to pay for Harvey's aplomb in the recruitment process; to travel to Danny's meaningless games with the Saints; to do everything they could to help their son play college football and get an education.
And Danny has big plans.
"I want to keep playing football, try to get bigger and everything," he said. "But if that doesn't happen I'm definitely going to go back to high school, be a physical education teacher and become a football or baseball coach."