By Joseph Santoliquito
It was one of those “oh-no, oh-yea” moments. West Chester was down to its third quarterback, down by a point to Shippensburg and down to a very few options on a third-and-six at the Ship 43 with less than two minutes to play.
At stake was an undefeated season hanging in the balance and the possibility of a Division II playoff berth being snuffed out.
It’s when Rams’ quarterback Andrew Derr dropped back and tossed a floater into four Shippensburg defenders. Rams’ coach Bill Zwaan saw it unfold in slow motion, wincing at the inevitable, before two hands surged up from nowhere and changed it all.
Rondell White had that ability to alter things. It was the 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior tailback that saved the season, snaring what could have been an interception and turned a little dink over the middle into a 25-yard gain, setting up a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
It was White the Rams relied on time and time again. It was White, a graduate of nearby Rustin High, who played an integral role in leading West Chester to its first NCAA Division II Final Four appearance since 2004. He leaves the owner of 21 West Chester school records, which also includes the Rams winning a school-record 13 games last season.
White’s college career was capped as the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year, first-team AP Small School All-America and with something else: the Maxwell Club’s 13th Brian Westbrook Tri-State Player of the Year, presented by the Philadelphia Insurance Companies.
This past season, White became the third player in NCAA Division II history to generate over 3,000 all-purpose yards, finishing with 3,107, just 53 yards off the all-time record held by the NFL’s Danny Woodhead, while he was at Chadron State (Neb.).
White rushed for 1,989 yards and 21 touchdowns on an NCAA Division II-record 406 carries, caught 75 passes for 843 yards and three TDs and he averaged an astounding 207.1 all-purpose yards a game.
He simply did it all.
“Rondell has tremendous quickness, and above everything, he has tremendous durability, he did it all, there’s no question he carried us,” said Rams’ coach Zwaan, who’s awarded the Maxwell Club’s Tri-State Coach of the Year, thanks to the season White had. “You have players that play beyond their statistics, like height, weight and speed and Rondell is certainly one of them. He’s fast on the field, that’s for sure, and he plays much bigger than he is. He did so many different things, and we can count on him all of time.”
But perhaps the play that epitomized White came against Shippensburg. The Rams entered the game 7-0. Their starting quarterback went down, their back-up struggled and their third quarterback was placed in a near-impossible situation—charged with bringing the Rams into field goal range in the final minutes.
The one intangible that Zwaan liked above all else was White’s fortitude. He simply refused to lose.
“With the game in question in the fourth quarter, everyone knew Rondell was going to figure out a way to get us into the end zone,” Zwaan said. “Because of the confidence our kids had in him, our guys never thought they were out of any game. They were going to find a way to win it, and Rondell was going to take us there.”
Coming out of Rustin, it didn’t seem as if White would be heading anywhere. He received looks from D-I and I-AAs. But despite a brilliant high school career, he was brandished with “the tags.” Not too this, not too that, not fast enough, not big enough …
“I remember reading about other kids I played against going to D-I schools, I thought I was just as good as they were,” White recalled. “It wasn’t easy to hear that I wasn’t big enough; I wasn’t fast enough. I went to West Chester and I remember Coach Zwaan telling me we play Delaware. That got me going. Delaware was one of the schools that blew me off. It was the first game on our schedule my first two years and I wanted to show what I could do.
“Every time you step on the field, you have to have the mindset that you’re the best player on the field. It doesn’t matter what team I play for, or who I play against. I heard the knocks about the size and speed. I worked hard to disprove that. Coach Zwaan and West Chester gave me my chance and it’s something that I will never forget.”
White’s goal is to continue playing football. He’s working again to disprove—but this time he comes heavily armed with tangible proof.
Still, he’s taken the time to reflect on the remarkable year he had. It’s bittersweet, leaving the program and the friends on the field he gained.
“To be a Final Four team my senior season, and looking at the progression, we didn’t win the Division II championship, but all the hard work, we kept fighting and fighting and taking that step forward, it makes it all worthwhile,” White said. “We kept getting better the right way. If we wanted to be great, it wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone was on board. It was a credit to everyone on our team.
“Football is not an individual game. I had to do my job and I had to make sure everyone was doing their job. I’m not done yet. I want to play in the NFL and we’ll see what happens there. But to get the Maxwell Award, and to be associated with someone like Brian Westbrook, shows your hard work was rewarded. What makes it special are my coaches and a lot of my teammates will be there for the dinner. They got me here. It’s a great feeling when people believe in you. These guys always had my back and that’s the feeling I’ll always have for this team.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a Pennsylvania high school committee member of the Maxwell Club and a feature writer for CBS MaxPreps and CBS Philly.