Amidst a football program with stars and future college talent at almost every position on both sides of the ball, one of Gainesville’s biggest weapons is prized for what he does with his booming right leg.
At a mere 160 pounds, Red Elephants senior John White isn’t going to stand out for his stature when he gets off the bus on Friday night or even in the halls at school during the day.
However, the Texas native, who has lived in Georgia almost all of his life, has gained a reputation of being able to flip the field for Gainesville’s defense, better than almost anyone else who also does the same job punting and kicking.
And, for that, White knows he provides a unique and valuable service, even for a program that scores at a higher rate than almost any program it faces and is situated to make a run at the Class 6A state championship in 2023.
“We have an offense and defense that are (both) so talented,” said White, who had a season-best 71-yard punt against Jackson County in 2022. “It’s great to be able to play such an important role in helping our team out.”
Yes, White has gotten his helmet and jersey dirty a few times.
Early in the 2022 playoffs, he posted a sideline tackle against South Paulding that had Gainesville’s entire sideline jumping around.
“I think they (my teammates) were more excited about that than when I hit a long punt,” White said.
White certainly had a breakout season in 2022, averaging 42 yards on his punts, including nine balls that went dead without getting returned inside the 10.
And, on extra points, the academically-gifted, special-teams weapon was good on 46 of 47 attempts in 2022.
For White, becoming proficient in punting and field goals is all a matter of repetition and mental focus.
When it comes down to kicking the ball a long way, it really doesn’t matter how much weight you can bench press or squat.
However, it shows when you haven’t put in the time to get good at the craft and precision it takes to become an elite kicker.
“Between kicking and punting, I’ve probably put my foot on the ball at least 10,000 times,” said White, who is a straight-A student and member of all the honor societies at Gainesville High.
As he prepares for the 2023 season, White plans to work even harder than ever before.
Even though he’s open to being recruited to play football in college and has even talked to a few programs, the Red Elephants’ kicker leans toward attending the University of Georgia, possibly to pursue a career as a lawyer.
“I’m a die-hard Georgia fan,” said White, whose father, Darrell, is a retired federal law enforcement and Secret Service agent.
Even though White had tinkered with kicking ever since he was in pee wee football, he didn’t get serious about it until he got to his freshman year at North Hall in 2020.
At that time, the Trojans had a stellar kicker Luke Brown, who White said he looked up to and tried to develop the same skills.
However, White’s introduction to Gainesville’s program comes with a funny story.
As a freshman, he was practicing one day on the Red Elephants’ practice field, when he drew the attention of their former coach Heath Webb, he said.
The two talked about him playing for Gainesville, just assuming he was a student in its district who also looked younger than high-school age.
Then White told him that he was attending a rival county school.
After going home and talking with his parents about his innocent encounter with Gainesville’s former coach, the family made the decision for their youngest son to move schools the following year.
With his move, White had to forego playing varsity in 2021, but was still able to participate in junior-varsity football.
And he kept honing his craft with hours upon hours out on the field, trying to perfect his kicking mechanics.
Finally able to play varsity in 2022, White made an immediate impact.
Against Marist, he nailed a punt that hit at about the 5-yard-line and rolled to a stop at the 10 without being returned.
This season, White's goal is to both get All-State honors for his individual performance, along with a state-championship ring with the entire program.
In addition to loving the game of football, he said it helps immensely with his academic focus, even though there’s less free time to study.
“I’ve always taken school seriously,” White said. “But without football, I’m a bit of a procrastinator.”
Even if he attends Georgia, White doesn’t count out the possibility of trying to earn a walk-on spot with the back-to-back national champions.
This season, Gainesville opens up against Marist on Aug. 18 at City Park Stadium.