All of that, White said, makes a high schooler think.
“As you get older, dreams change, things evolve,” he said in a phone interview this week.
Scholarship offers rolled in from schools in the Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten. And then Sean Gleeson, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Princeton, called. Just think about us, Gleeson told White, and he did.
He contemplated what an Ivy League degree could mean in the long run, what the connection to Princeton alumni groups could mean, if all that mattered more than running through a tunnel to the screams of tens of thousands of fans and the chance to play major conference football.
“I came to a realization of what I wanted in a university and redefined success for myself,” said White, who threw for 54 touchdowns and 3,931 yards his senior season. “My junior year was a big year for me to grow up and be a man, not be the typical high school student-athlete who is just pursuing football for the next four years.”
He had already developed an abiding interest in finance — he graduated high school a semester early and interns three days a week for Morgan Stanley — and saw the sacrifices that athletes make when football becomes their livelihood.
After Princeton, he wouldn’t have to make those same sacrifices, he thought. He’d be a student-athlete, in the truest sense of the word.
He visited campus in early July and barely had enough time to take the whole thing in. It didn’t matter. He loved it. He verbally committed later that month — on his birthday — and told every coach who tried to pry him away, thanks, but no thanks.
And then Alabama called.
“It’s freaking Alabama football. It’s Nick Saban,” White said. “I treated it a little different.”
He called Gleeson and told him he was considering the Crimson Tide, and visited Tuscaloosa, Ala., in late January. He met with Saban in his office, then the Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, then one of the university’s deans. His host on the visit was the hero of this year’s national championship game, true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
When White got back to California, he took a week to consider both schools. Then he called the Tide’s coaching staff.
Thanks, but no thanks, he told them.
He stuck with Princeton, and he hopes other high school recruits will consider Ivy League schools, too.
“I really hope student-athletes around the country visualize what they want in college,” he said. “The Ivy League isn’t the worst route to take. Between the education and the competition, it’s one of the most beneficial.”