Faith motivates returning Memphis quarterback on and off the field

There is a tragic reason why Brady White chose No. 3 for his jersey when he transferred from Arizona State to Memphis.

White and Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski had been friends since elementary school in the Los Angeles area.

On Jan. 16, 2018, Hilinski died at age 21. It was later found he had Stage 1 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). His parents Mark and Kym Hilinski along with his brothers Kelly and Ryan established a foundation Hilinski’s Hope that partners with the NCAA Sport Science Institute to promote mental health wellness in college athletics. It helps provide funding to support programs and practical tools for schools to bring parity to mental health in line with other illnesses and injuries student athletes face.

Hilinski, who wore No. 3 at Washington State, was going to be the starting quarterback for the Cougars in 2018. During the 2017 season he completed 130 of 177 passes for 1,176 yards and seven touchdowns. In his final game, the Holiday Bowl, he completed 39 of 50 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns.

“I knew him really well. I grew up playing with him,” said White.

Playing for Hart High School in Newhall, Calif., White was a four-star recruit and top 10 nationally-ranked quarterback prospect.

He had been Second Team All-America as a junior and as a senior in 2014 passed for 3,725 yards and 45 touchdowns. During his career he passed for more than 10,835 yards and rushed for 799 yards in three seasons. He was named to the All-California Interscholastic Federation team in 2014 and was starting quarterback for the West team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl after his senior season.

He signed with Arizona State, the highest ranked 4-star player to sign with the Sun Devils. He was First Team All-Academic Pacific 12 Conference in 2016.

White transferred to Memphis in January 2018. He had been recruited to ASU by Mike Norvell, the quarterbacks coach from 2012-15. Norvell became Memphis’ head coach in December 2015.

In 2016 White completed 25 of 49 passes for 259 yards and threw two touchdowns for the Sun Devils. He missed the 2017 season because of a foot injury sustained in 2016.

Last season he led the Tigers to their second straight West Division title in the American Athletic Conference. White completed 62.8 percent of his passes, 246 of 392, for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns.

There is another number three that impacts White: the Trinity. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

A strong spiritual leader, White said, “Jesus means everything to me. He is the reason why I am where I am today and He is the reason I live and why I am playing this game.”

White wears a cross given to him by his grandfather Joe Milligan as a high school graduation gift. He had lost a cross his grandmother had given him.

“I love wearing the cross. You are proud to wear your jersey and represent your school, your number, your family name on the back. The cross represents Christ and the sacrifice that He did, the power in that.”

He doesn’t wear it when he plays. He doesn’t want it ripped off.

More than his jersey, White’s identity is found in what helps him play.

“I know that my identity is not in football. It’s in Christ. Whatever success I have, failure I have on the field, that doesn’t define me because I know I can play freely. I am not worried about anything. When you are free you are confident. Having fun, that is when you play your best. I’m at peace. I’m extremely confident.

“You have tough times as a competitor,” he explained.

“You get caught up and get down. Having Christ is a great reminder, ‘Hey, man, this a very, slim time. It doesn’t matter if you win a national championship and five Super Bowls or play only high school football, as a long as you know Christ and live a life that glorifies Him.

“You have a long, long time in heaven which is the ultimate goal. If you are truly a believer and walking in Christ, you have peace and knowledge and know who your identity is in and that helps a lot,” said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback.

On the field, White wants to be identified among Memphis quarterbacks who set school records.

“There have been some great quarterbacks in the past, Riley Ferguson, Paxton Lynch (who played for Denver and is now with Seattle),” he explained. “Those are guys of recent times. I want to do my best to keep this program performing at a high level, competing for championships and impacting others in a positive way.”

Memphis finished 8-6 last season and lost to Wake Forest in the Birmingham Bowl.

“I am privileged and blessed to be here. It’s pretty miraculous how God worked His hand to get me there but I am trying for us to get better every day. I work really hard. I know that is a cliché but I pride myself every day in being prepared,” White said.

“I am very confident in how I can play. I feel like I can improve. There is always room to improve but I feel like I bring a lot to the table as a well-rounded quarterback.”

Tigers defensive back Colton Cochran said White brings nothing but great things with his intelligence with the football, leadership and knowledge of the game.

Tigers tight end Joey Magnifico and high school teammate of Cochran at St. Benedict, said of White, “He works his butt off every day to make our team the best. He is really smart on the field. He is not going to turn the ball over very much.”

White, who can make multiple reads, does not “freak out,” said quarterback Brady McBride.

“He’s always calm and collected and a good presence to be around,” he added.

Hunter Hill, a wide receiver who played at Briarcest, called White “an awesome dude in the locker room.”

“On the field I see him improving,” he continued. “I am expecting another great season from him. He has come along as a leader. He is one of the smartest players I have been around especially on offense. He knows the offense in and out.”

With football a high priority that requires dedication, time and effort “to be the best I can be,” it is not White’s No. 1 priority.

“It is a close third. One is my faith and my relationship with Christ. Two is family, friends and others and serving them and sacrificing for them. That is what Christ did for us. What’s cool in this game of life, you can intertwine a lot of that especially with football,” he said.

White’s goal is to live a life that is full of the love of Christ so that it reflects Jesus.

“I know I’m not perfect. I’m a human being. I’m going to sin and fall short every single day,” he continued. “I hope that I love people in a way that they see Christ through me and use football as my platform in order to share His Word.

“I want to be a spiritual leader on this team and continue to be. I am not converting people to Jesus. I want to be the one that can plant seeds among the minds and souls of players.”

McBride said that White has helped him with his faith and led him to Christ.

“I started following Christ in March. Brady was a big leader and role model in that. I don’t think I could ever repay him. Brady, Patrick Taylor (running back) and Coye Fairman (wide receiver) are the three biggest spiritual leaders we have,” said McBride, who attends team Bible studies.

Magnifico said of White, “He is a big Christian man. He loves God and puts God in front of everything he does. His character, he is one of the best guys on the team. If you ever need anything go to Brady for it. Spiritually he reminds everybody on the team there is a Bible study.”

Cochran said, “He is very religious. It’s important to him. Brady tries to get as many people to go to Bible studies.”

Said Hill, “Everybody respects him. He’s been awesome. I am a big fan of his. He is incredibly top notch. You won’t find too many people better than Brady. In a positive way he has high integrity and high character on and off the field and everyone respects that about him.”

Memphis defensive lineman Jonathan Wilson said that White leads the team through his faith.

“He, Austin Hall and Patrick Taylor try to praise God in everything they do,” said Wilson.

Growing up attending private Christian schools, White grew up knowing about Christ and asked his parents, Deron and Andrea White, when he was five if he could be baptized, which he was.

In high school he surrendered his life to Christ as he began to learn and grow in his faith and begin to live it.

“If you learn about Jesus, He lived a perfect live. Going into high school and coming into college now I have always had awesome mentors who are extremely faith-driven men. They have helped guide me along. If you want to look at it from an athletes’ perspective, you look at guys like Tim Tebow and guys in the NFL who are really outspoken about their faith. I try to emulate that and do the same thing.”

White looks up to his father.

“I admire him so much, the father he is to me and the role model, not only as a dad, as a husband to my mom, as a friend and as a coach. He was my coach for awhile. I learned from his example and then obviously growing up you have all those talks with your dad and you experience certain things whether it is sports or rough patches in life, he is the one who is there guiding you through. I learned a ton from my father,” said White.

“I’ve got two fathers. I got my dad here and my heavenly father. Both of them have helped me a lot to get where I am now.”

Through injury White learned that God is in control.

“You come to college expecting to be The Guy,” said White, who did not play right away at Arizona State and then got injured.

“My faith kept me really strong. You can ask anyone that was in my corner through all of that, even that night when I went to the hospital I was supremely confident that I would be back better than ever. I knew God was in control. I knew whatever was going to happen I was OK with. I think God has rewarded me and He has brought me here and given me the opportunity to be here. It’s been fun. It’s a time where you can reflect and see the growth Jesus is working in my life.”

He is growing in the Word through memorization of scripture and reading verses that touch his heart.

“The Bible prepares you and teaches you about life and the (you read) parables that Jesus taught others. This book has got every answer. Sometimes it’s not blatant and you have to do some digging, some research and pray that God speaks to you. The Bible has everything you need.”

One Bible he got at Arizona State. It is a competitor’s Bible that “has some good stuff for athletes” he said.

He has seen teammates grow in their faith and become leaders spiritually as well.

“That helps us along the way. That is a goal of all of ours, not just mine, to step into leadership roles, not only on this team but in Bible studies.”

There are times when White is reading the Bible, worshiping, listening to a Christian song or talking with a mentor that helps put something into context and “kind of smacks me and I feel like it is God humbling me and pierces my heart and communicating.

“There are times when you get emotional or super excited, kind of like a light bulb moment. Those are always awesome to experience.”

He has had awesome experiences on the field when he won a championship his junior year in high school, winning big games at Memphis, playing for conference championships.

White, who likes to snowboard, wake board and describes himself as a “pretty active guy,” reads to elementary school students along with Taylor and plays bingo with children who are cancer patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said.

As successful as White has been, he does not make football a god.

“I want to be the best I can be, maximize my abilities and use whatever comes from that to honor God and praise Him.

“Jesus is my motivation. He is the reason why I do everything, I feel like as an athlete if you get to this level you are blessed to be here and you have abilities and gifts that He has given you. I learned I am strong and powerful and I need a savior and thankfully I have that,” said White.

“I try to glorify God in all that I do. I want to continue to be a light in this world and lead this team on and off the field.”

McBride said, “There is no better quarterback around than Brady White.”