BY SOREN ELSAY
You may know him as the quiet, soft-spoken guy helping you behind the counter at Renfrew Park Community Centre, but John Henry White was once a punishing force as a running back for the BC Lions.
Before he played over 120 games and racked up over 8,000 yards in the Canadian Football League as #20 for the Lions, John Henry White very nearly remained in the United States. After starring for Louisiana Tech University, the diminutive White, who stands at 5’9”, had an outside chance of playing in the National Football League. Originally drafted in the eighth and final round of the 1978 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, White nearly made the Chiefs’ opening day roster.
“I was the final player released by the Chiefs that year,” explains White. “I could have easily stayed [in the NFL], but I would have been on the inactive roster and [the inactive roster] wasn’t nearly the same as it is today.”
Instead, White entertained the idea of migrating north. Although the BC Lions coach at the time, Vic Rapp, had been in contact with him during his college career, White knew very little about the CFL.
“I hadn’t really looked at the CFL much, I’m from the deep south of Louisiana, and I knew certain things about the CFL but not a lot,” recalls White. “The first team that [approached] me was Saskatchewan … I had never even heard of that name!”
After signing with BC, White was forced to adjust to the many differences between the Canadian and American version football, such as a wider field, one fewer down and the ability for multiple players to be in motion before the ball is snapped. Although he gained much of his knowledge through team classroom sessions and one-on-one talks with teammates, White still had to personally alter his game.
“[In college] you would look to go wide, get to the sideline and then go [upfield],” explains White, “but in the CFL, [the field] was so wide that you could just keep going east and west and end up going nowhere. That was a big transition.”
“The biggest thing was the motion, though. In college you could only have one guy in motion [before the snap] at once, up here you would sometimes have five guys moving at once; it was crazy.”
Once he had gotten a handle on the new game, White became a steady contributor for the Lions with 35 touchdowns over the course of 10 seasons in the league from 1978 to1987. Among his fondest memories of his time in the CFL are winning the 1985 Grey Cup and an 84-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Hamilton during the ’79 season.
Following the end of his football career, John Henry White chose to stay permanently in the city of Vancouver.
“It’s a beautiful city, but it’s actually the people that made me want to stay, ever since I first came here I’ve felt at home.”
John Henry White is currently a staff member at the Renfrew Park Community Centre and once coached the local junior football team, the Trojans.
Soren Elsay is a Langara student and an aspiring journalist.
Copyright (c) 2013 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News