COLUMBUS — The video was supposed to be shown during the Minnesota game Oct. 13.
William White would appear on the Ohio Stadium scoreboard to raise awareness for ALS and make a plea for donations to find a cure for the incurable illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
But gameday operations are an imperfect production, filled with surprises and time constraints, so the message was delayed until the next home game Nov. 3 against Nebraska. White, a former Ohio State captain and 11-year NFL veteran, was diagnosed with ALS in 2016.
As luck, fate, or karma would have it, White’s son, Brendon, a sophomore safety who played sparingly in the first eight games of the season, was called upon vs. the Cornhuskers in a next-man-up situation when Jordan Fuller was ejected on a controversial targeting penalty.
“When my opportunity came, I took advantage of it,” Brendon said. “I had a good week of practice, and I knew my opportunity would come sooner or later. When it did, my job was to make plays.”
On the day his father’s message appeared, Brendon had the game of his life, a team-high 13 tackles and two tackles for loss in just 58 snaps. The way it unfolded was so happenstance a Hollywood director would have rejected the script because of its outlandishness.
“Who would have ever thought that would happen?” said William, who works as the director of community and corporate engagement at OSU’s College of Engineering. “Isaiah [Pryor] being hurt, the stupidest call in the world with Jordan being ejected. I was still fussing about that, and then in my mind I was going, ‘Brendon is going to get a chance to play.’
“The way it all happened was a strategic plan by our Lord and Savior.”
Brendon was a four-star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class. The local product from Olentangy Liberty knows his way around the Horseshoe’s concourses better than the locker room. His college choice was an easy one, but as playing time dwindled, frustration set in.
There were dalliances at linebacker and receiver before Brendon finally found a permanent home at safety. His father kept preaching patience, knowing an opportunity would arise. When it did, Brendon needed to be prepared to seize the moment.
Even before Fuller’s ejection, Brendon knew the Nebraska game would include playing time; he practiced all week in third-down situations. Once the penalty on Fuller was upheld, Brendon was thrown into the deep end in the base defense.
“The first series was kind of nerve-racking being out there with the first team in the middle of the game,” he said. “It was early. Usually, I’m going in during the fourth quarter. After the first series and the second series, I started believing in myself more and guys said, ‘You’ve got this.’”
Eight plays after Fuller’s second-quarter ejection, Brendon made his first tackle. He would have four before halftime.
“He has a chance now to create a name for himself because whenever anyone talks about him they always mention his dad’s name,” said William, a former Lima Senior standout. “I told him, ‘I never had 13 tackles in a game, so you already beat me. You bypassed me in one game.’ Very proud dad.”
Brendon’s anticipation and knack for pursuing the football made a difference in Ohio State’s 36-31 win. It’s not a stretch to say the Buckeyes possibly lose the game if not for his emergence. He was aggressive in pursuit and made sure when he engaged with a Nebraska ball carrier he didn’t miss the tackle. White made three stops in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win.
“Brendon White came in and did a hell of a job,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s been working very hard to earn the trust of the coaches and get on the field. He’s getting better and better and, obviously, he proved it.”
Ohio State’s defense surrendered 450 yards and 31 points to Nebraska, with issues that have plagued the Buckeyes all season showing up at various stages. But glimmers of hope were evident, none more so than Brendon, who could have solved a riddle OSU’s failed to decipher.
A revolving door of players has cycled through the safety position opposite Fuller. None have stuck, lacking a level of consistency Greg Schiano and Alex Grinch crave. Meyer wouldn’t commit to naming Brendon a starter, but there will be no more entering the game in the fourth quarter. His time will soon come after the opening kickoff.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Hard work pays off. We always go through adversity as athletes. The biggest thing is not to give up on yourself and have faith in God and keep going. When my opportunity came I took advantage of it. After the game I started tearing up.”
Even during the game, Brendon got emotional. Not because of his storybook game, but because he saw the message from his father on the scoreboard. Mom was more partial to hearing her son’s name over the stadium speakers.
“I always knew he had this in him,” William said. “It’s just about taking advantage. I was just happy that when he got out there, he didn’t get overwhelmed and he played football the way he can play. Now, if you want a lot of excitement, you really need to call my wife. She was on cloud nine. Actually, cloud 19. She was extremely giddy.”
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