It took some time for Reservoir's Avian White to find his spot on the football field. Entering high school at 6 feet and more than 200 pounds, coaches saw an athletic but inexperienced player and thought to develop him as a lineman.
But as everyone would soon find out, traditional roles, like opposing tacklers, can't contain White, the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Offensive Player of the Year.
"I haven't seen a guy that can do what he does," said coach Bryan Cole. "He's always been athletic and as he's grown up he's filled out and got stronger, and become even more athletic."
Growing up, White was content to stay on the sidelines, playing video games with his brothers and riding bikes rather than picking up a football or basketball.
"I would just watch other kids play basketball," said the soft-spoken White. "I was not interested in sports until the eighth grade."
That was when White's father enrolled him in an unlimited weight rec program in Laurel, and he quickly caught up with his peers.
Noticing that he was light on his feet for his size, coaches first utilized White as a fullback and middle linebacker. But the first time a play was drawn up for White to carry the ball himself, everything changed.
"They gave me the ball one time and saw what I could do," he said.
While most middle school running backs could be brought down by any contact, it would routinely take two or three tacklers to bring White down.
"If he gets a two-yard gain, he's going to make it four or five or six," Cole said.
Once he got to high school, White had developed a passion for the game, and especially the position of running back, but he would have to convince a new group of coaches and players that he wasn't just a developing defensive end masquerading as a power back.
"He was a beast as a freshman, but he was a little inexperienced," Cole said.
On JV, White played offensive tackle, defensive tackle, nose guard, defensive end and fullback. He bided his time and practiced hard and earned a promotion to varsity as a sophomore, seeing time at fullback and defensive end.
It wasn't until his junior year, when White was given a chance to carry the ball, that coaches finally started to pick up on the possibilities that an athletic, 240-pound running back presented on a high school football field.
"Some kids from my rec league had seen me run the ball, so they knew what I could do," he said.
In the first game of the season, a loss to Mt. Hebron, White broke a 30-yard run on Reservoir's opening drive and scored both of his team's touchdowns.
"His junior year we moved to a two-back set, more of a pro style offense, and he got his chance," Cole said. "He was a game changer for us and he changed the attitude of the team."
White finished the year with 450 yards and six touchdowns, and knew that he had earned his spot.
"I knew going into this season that I was going to be a senior and I was going to have a much bigger role in the offense, so I took the offseason much more seriously and spent a lot of time in the weight room," said White, who models himself after NFL power backs like Eddie Lacey, Trent Richardson, Earl Campbell and Jerome Bettis.
But even this year, White had to prove himself.
"Junior year when I was getting the ball, it was 'watch the big back, watch the fat back' and all of these other nicknames," he said. "Senior year I wanted to show everyone that I could run the ball as good as anyone else."
But with several new speed backs on offense this year, White was slotted at fullback in certain sets early in the season.
The Gators lost two of their first three games, with White carrying the ball only 20 times combined in the two losses. He did not gripe or sulk on the sideline, but knew what he was capable of.
"When the team is not winning you want to do anything you can to change that, and I knew that by running the ball I could help the team win," he said.
Late in a 24-6 loss to Glenelg, a game in which White carried the ball only seven times, the Reservoir coaches put White back at tailback and he broke a 20-yard run.
"After that we were like 'I guess we're idiots, he's the guy that should be back there getting the ball'," Cole said. "He most definitely earned his position...he's the guy that breaks tackles and moves piles. He showed the younger guys how to break a tackle. All of our running backs started running harder."
Reservoir won its next six games in a row, a span in which White averaged more than 180 yards per game and more than 25 carries. He also scored 13 of his 17 touchdowns this season in that stretch. In a 14-13 loss to River Hill that ended the winning streak, White rushed for 186 yards on 44 carries, and he followed that with a 145-yard, two touchdown performance in a stunning playoff win over county-champion Glenelg.
It was the first football playoff win for Reservoir, and although the run ended one week later with a loss at River Hill — a game in which White gained 91 yards for a total of 1,672 (on more than 300 carries with only two fumbles) on the season — his position as the best running back to ever come through Reservoir was cemented.
"I want my legacy to be for all kids that are bigger sized to know that they can try out for any position they want to play," White said.
White plans to continue his football career next year, but does not yet know exactly where. An animal lover — he has a pair of Yorkies, Trio and Thomas — he aspires for a career working with animals.
"Wherever a coach wants me to play, I'll play," said White, whose favorite subject is English. "But I also want to show that if he gives me a chance to run the ball, he won't be making a mistake."
Also named to the first team offense:
Tyler Martin, Hammond senior. Martin had a breakout season, completing 119 passes for almost 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns with only six interceptions. A double threat, he also was the Golden Bears' leading rusher, gaining 558 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. In his best performance of the season, Martin completed 31-of-41 passes for 444 yards and five touchdowns to end River Hill's 30-game winning streak, 47-38.
Terrell Charles, Howard senior. Selected as the Fan's Choice Offensive Player of the Year, Charles and his offensive line carried the Lions offense this year. He rushed for 1,738 yards and 18 touchdowns on 285 carries (6.1 yards per carry), accounting for almost 75 percent of the Lions rushing yards, and more than half of Howard's yards from scrimmage.
Walter Fletcher, Centennial senior. A strong candidate for offensive Player of the Year, Fletcher was one of the most productive rushers in all of Maryland this season. He rushed for 1,753 yards on 237 carries (7.4 per carry), which was fifth in the state, and scored 24 total touchdowns (one receiving), which was third in the state. Fletcher was also a dangerous kick returner, and rushed for almost 3,000 yards in his career as an Eagle.
Jared Jacoby, Glenelg senior. A perfect complement to teammate David Brookhart, Jacoby led the county-champion Gladiators with 905 yards on 178 carries, while scoring six touchdowns. In three seasons as a Gladiator, Jacoby gained 1,870 yards from scrimmage and scored 14 touchdowns.
Byran Barney, Atholton senior. After transferring to Atholton from Marriotts Ridge, Barney was the one constant on the Raiders offense this year. His best performance came in an overtime loss to Reservoir, when he caught seven passes for 160 yards and a score. On the season he had 42 catches for 766 yards (18.2 per catch), which was 100 more yards than any other receiver, and scored five touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 receiver finishes his career with 105 catches for 1,380 yards and seven touchdowns.
Dershone Hayman, Oakland Mills senior. The 6-foot, 170-pound team captain moved from tight end to receiver this season and thrived in the new role. He caught a league-best 57 passes for 650 yards, three touchdowns and three two-point conversions. On defense, he made 79 tackles, four sacks and had two interceptions. In two seasons, Hayman caught 89 passes from quarterback David Pindell for 1,264 yards and seven scores.
Deandre House, Hammond sophomore. One of the most exciting young players in the league, the 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore had nine touchdown receptions in the first six games of the season, including a six-catch, 136-yard, three-touchdown performance in a win over River Hill that ended a 30-game Hawks win streak. He finished the season with 31 catches for 622 yards, and his nine touchdowns were a league-best. House also made 44 tackles and had a league-best six interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Cory Daniel, River Hill senior. A two-time first team tight end selection, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound state champion wrestler was a dominant force on both sides of the ball. As a pass-catcher, he had 22 receptions for 479 yards and seven touchdowns, including two in a state semifinal loss to Linganore. He also rushed for more than 400 yards and eight touchdowns, gaining more than eight yards per carry. He was even a productive punt and kick returner. On defense, he intercepted three passes, one for a touchdown, and made 98 tackles, 11 for loss and two sacks. He will wrestle for North Carolina next year.
Craig Burris, Glenelg senior. Often the lead blocker in the Gladiators run game, Burris helped clear the way for almost 2,900 rushing yards and more than 30 touchdowns, including one that he scored himself. The 235-pound pile-mover was also a force on defense, making 30 tackles, two for loss.
Anthony Corrao, River Hill senior. With six different running backs who gained at least 100 yards, Corrao was a consistent element in the Hawks 3,250-yard, 44-touchdown run game. The 210-pound defensive end also made 81 tackles, 10 for loss, with 3.5 sacks.
David Robbins, Glenelg junior. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound gentle giant already has a Division I lineman sized frame as only a junior. He helped give David Brookhart and Jared Jacoby plenty of room to run, as the pair combined for almost 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. Robbins is being scouted by a number of Division I teams.
Tyler Smith, River Hill junior. As River Hill's largest and strongest player, at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Smith will be a prized asset next season after helping Kalonji Moore rush for more than 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns on only 164 carries this year. Smith also played defense, recording 31 tackles (5 for loss, 1 sack), recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass.
Matt Von Neida, Howard senior. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Von Neida was an integral piece in running back Terrell Charles' 1,700-yard 18-touchdown season. Von Neida was a polished, dedicated offensive lineman, and will likely play Division 1AA football next season.
David Brookhart, Glenelg senior. Since his sophomore season, Brookhart has been one of the most dynamic and productive players in the league. This was a career year for the speedy athlete, as he rushed for 892 yards (7.1 per carry) and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 103 yards and a score, picked off two passes on defense, completed six passes for 43 yards, punted three times for more than 100 yards, and was one of the most dangerous kick and punt returners in the state. In three years he had more than 2,200 yards of offense and scored more than 30 touchdowns.
Alex Potocko, River Hill senior. Potocko dedicated himself to kicking this offseason, and the results were evident on the field. He missed only one extra point in 58 attempts and made three field goals with a long of 38 yards, though he was reliable from beyond 50. He also booted the ball into the end zone for touchbacks 56 times in 75 kickoffs.