Nathan “Nate” White never really slept that night in the park.
It’s nearly impossible to sleep when you are the man of the family at age 17, and you, your mother and four younger siblings — including newborn D.J. — are all homeless.
“I stayed up for a few hours, watching over them,” White said of perhaps the low point of his life, which occurred in the summer before his junior year at Orlando Edgewater High. “I would doze off, but then I would wake up and do it again.”
White, a 6-3, 220-pound defensive end, earned a football scholarship to play for FIU, signing with the Panthers on Dec. 19. But even though he will be moving to Miami this summer, his mother, Katy, and his brothers are never out of his mind or his heart.
D.J. is now two, and the family also includes Morrie, 8; Kymaury, 11, Keshan, 16, and Nate, 19. Besides the night in the park, they slept that summer on church floors and in cheap hotels.
To raise money for hotel rooms, they would buy large packs of candy and then sell the individual bars for profit.
The family’s problems began when Katy had complications while pregnant with D.J. Unable to work, she and her family were evicted from their apartment on the day she returned home from the hospital with her new baby.
Nothing has ever come easy for Nate White.
Born in Miami, he attended Keys Gate in Homestead before Katy moved the family to Orlando when he was 15.
That’s about the time when White cut ties with his father.
“He would always tell me things and not follow through,” White said. “He would lie to me.
“After I signed [with FIU], he tried to contact me, but I said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ He wasn’t there when we needed him.”
Similar to his life, football success for White has not happened in linear fashion.
He arrived at Edgewater hoping to play basketball. But, on his first day on campus, he was so lost that he asked an adult for directions to his next class. That person happened to be an assistant coach who asked White if he would like to try out for football.
White agreed, and he played just two games on the junior varsity before earning a promotion.
Despite very little in the way of football experience, White was an immediate success, even while his team struggled. He had two sacks in his first varsity game and finished with 15 for the year while Edgewater went 0-10 that season, getting shut out six times.
After that season, Cameron Duke was brought in as coach. Duke immediately turned around the Eagles, and White continued to be a force.
As a junior, White had 20 sacks as Edgewater went 9-3. This past season, White concluded his prep career with 27 sacks, scoring two touchdowns on fumble recoveries and taking his team to the state semifinals with a 12-2 record.
“Nate has an unbelievable motor,” Duke said of White, who ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at a University of Florida camp. “He’s a fast-twitch kid, and he’s explosive coming off the ball.
“He’s a special player, and, with a college meal plan, he will be at 250 pounds by the end of his first semester.”
FIU is getting a leader in White, who showed his mettle on Nov. 16 when Edgewater trailed Tallahassee Lincoln 14-0 at halftime in a regional semifinal playoff game.
White was the last player to reach the locker-room at intermission, and, when he did, he saw a lot of finger-pointing.
“My coaches have always told me to be a leader,” White said. “That night, my time came.
“I told the boys we had to play for each other. It was a hot locker-room, but when I spoke, everyone calmed down. I had to set the locker-room straight.”
White backed up his talk by producing three sacks and one defensive touchdown as Edgewater rallied to win 35-14.
That performance increased the recruiting interest in White, who was undecided at that time. White had offers from mid-majors such as FIU, Connecticut, Florida Atlantic, Northern Illinois and Akron.
Two Power-Five Conference schools — Nebraska and Syracuse — got involved, too, asking White not to sign in the December “early” period and instead wait for February. Those schools wanted to see who they could sign in December before turning to White as part of a possible second wave.
“I had high hopes for Syracuse,” White said. “But I felt that asking me to wait was a slap in the face. I felt with my talent and the work I’ve put in, I shouldn’t be a second option.”
RESCUED BY COMMUNITY
Brooke Thomas, who at the time was the team chaplain for the Edgewater football team, was among the first to realize White was homeless.
Thomas — who is friends with NBA player Tobias Harris and his sister Tesia — noticed White had holes in some of his shirts. Hearing about this, Harris donated a large box of gear, including shoes, warmup pants and jackets.
When Thomas asked where she could send the box of goodies, White said he and his family were spending the night at a Motel 6.
Thomas, who had only known White for two months at that time, met his mother that night and also found out that there were five boys in all.
“I saw their living conditions,” Thomas said. “I was heartbroken.”
Thomas connected Katy with an organization called Family Promise, which provides emergency shelter, meals and support services to the homeless.
Family Promise provided day care for D.J. and transportation to and from school for the other boys.
With donations from numerous local families such as Lisa and Scott Anderton and some resume training from Family Promise, White was able to find a job, buy a car and rent a house.
Katy and her boys moved in to the new house a few months ago — the day after Thanksgiving to be precise — and the Andertons and other families from that College Park neighborhood donated furniture to help make that house a home.
“When I think back to the hardship we went through, I cry,” Katy said. “Lisa helped us find the house we’re in, and I’m so grateful to everyone. It’s heartfelt.”
Now, with his family stabilized, White is set to head to FIU in June.
“I think Nate will do amazing,” Thomas said of White, who will study criminal justice with the hopes of becoming a police officer after his playing days are over. “He’s the most resilient and humble kid I’ve ever met.
“He bounces back from anything, and he walks around with so much joy. I can see all of Miami falling in love with him.”
Contact Walter Villa at firstname.lastname@example.org.