Dean Herrington can call himself one of the most prolific developers of quarterback talent in high school football today. Now the head coach at Paraclete High School in Lancaster, Calif., Herrington has mentored 16 future Division I QBs, a couple of whom have gone on to the NFL, over the course of his career working at a handful of California high schools. During the 2002 season, three of his protégés started games for Pac-10 teams: Kyle Boller at Cal, Kyle Matter at Stanford and Matt Moore at UCLA. Eight years ago, Herrington had a spindly 5'10", 170-pound wizard in the pocket playing for him at Southern California’s Bishop Alemany High School. Herrington kept telling college recruiters the kid was special, but none of them listened. All Vernon Adams did was throw for almost 11,000 yards and produce 121 touchdowns for FCS Eastern Washington before Oregon brought him in as a graduate transfer to take over the Ducks’ offense.
Herrington has seen just about everything a high school coach can see. Well, at least he thought he had, until the recruitment of his latest quarterback.
Last summer, Brevin White made some headlines as a four-star recruit who committed to Princeton over offers from Washington, Arizona State and a handful of other Power 5 schools. White, a 4.0 student who aspires to major in finance made his decision while in Cancun on a family vacation celebrating his 18th birthday.
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“He texted me and told me what he was doing, and my reaction was ‘What?!’” says Herrington. “I flat-out told him, ‘You’re way too good to play in the Ivy League. With the season I believe you’re going to have, you’re going to have a lot more offers when it’s all said and done. You sure you want to do this?’”
White was sure, although after a spectacular 2017 season where he threw 54 touchdowns and only five interceptions, his recruiting stock was still rising. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck came out to watch practice in the middle of the season. The Gophers, Herrington says, wanted a decision right away. (It wasn’t the answer they were hoping for.)
Boise State, Iowa and Iowa State all reached out, but White wasn’t interested. Then in late January, Alabama assistant coach Tosh Lupoi contacted Herrington about White.
“I thought, there’s no way he can say no,” Herrington says. “It’s too good to pass up. You talk about the Princeton connections, but Coach Saban has great connections, too.”
The Crimson Tide told White they loved what they’d seen from his film. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, White has ideal size, but the Alabama coaches really liked how accurate he was and were impressed by how he moved in the pocket, scanning the defense to spot open receivers. They invited White and his family to come to Tuscaloosa for an official visit.
“The irony was a handful of schools had been pressing Brevin for official visits over this last month, and Brevin was telling them thank you for your interest, but I’m going to stick with my commitment to Princeton,” says Brevin’s father, Deron White. “But then Bama is Bama. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play for Coach Saban. He was intrigued by it. I could see the needle moving for him.”
Deron, who has been friends with his son’s coach since their days together at Hart High (White was an all-CIF guard on the basketball team, Herrington an all-CIF quarterback), works in commercial real estate, but he also moonlights officiating college basketball games in the Pac-12 and other conferences on the West Coast. He worked a game and then met his family at the airport to take a redeye flight to Alabama on Jan. 25, but could only stay one day before he had to fly back cross-country on Saturday morning to work another game, so the Crimson Tide staff tried to cram most of the Whites’ meetings in on Friday. Brevin had his meeting in Nick Saban’s office. Then he met with new offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos as they went over his film and grilled him on the white board. (Enos, the former Arkansas offensive coordinator was in his first week on the job in Tuscaloosa after being hired by Michigan six weeks earlier, called up Herrington right after: “Man, you’d be really proud of him. He hit it out of the park.”) Then, there was a facilities tour, a campus tour, an academics tour and a meeting with the dean.
“Those meetings went really well,” Brevin White says. “Building the relationship with them, I started to think I could see myself playing for these guys and having a great time. It’s also a beautiful campus. ‘Wow, this may be an option.’ [Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa] was my host that weekend. He’d say, 'Dude, it’d be so much fun.' It was an awesome and eye-opening experience.”
Before White and his mother flew home, they had breakfast at Saban’s lake house with all the other Tide recruits and their families. White missed out on the event that generated the most buzz.
“That video of him dancing that went viral, I wasn’t there for that,” he says. “My mom was. That was a parents-only deal. I’m with my host Saturday night. All the parents get invited for cocktails and dinner and dance party at Saban’s house.”
The Whites made sure to be transparent with the coaches at Princeton, notifying them of the scholarship offer and the official visit to Tuscaloosa. Back home in California, the 18-year-old quarterback was following the family rule about never making any decisions based on emotion.
“We’ve always said we like a 24-, 48-hour rule,” says Deron White. “Let’s go home and let it settle in. Then you can continue to review and look at all the video and pictures that we take and we can look at all the pros and cons of what you’re looking for versus what Alabama is offering. We’ve been relatively methodical about it. To Alabama’s credit, understanding the timing—they didn’t press us either. They were very gracious. We had other schools press us really really hard on the emotional close with you there while you’re really pumped up and when they are catering to you. But with this particular kid, that doesn’t really work because he likes to make sure he’s not making mistakes. He wants to decipher through it.”
Brevin knew it was easy to get caught up in emotions and hype on a visit. “Those next couple of days [after getting home] are important to lay out what your core ideals are and what’s really essential to you as an individual in choosing a college,” he says. “I wanted to let Alabama know as soon as possible so they could go after another guy.”
The following Thursday night, White had made up his mind. He called Lupoi at Alabama the next day to tell him: He was sticking with Princeton.
“Going through the recruiting process, there’ll never be a perfect fit but there’s a best fit,” he says. “And that’s the biggest thing that kids need to realize. No place is going to satisfy all your needs, but there is a best fit and best spot that can check most of the boxes off for you. Alabama was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I had to go see it with my parents.”
Obviously, Princeton doesn’t have the same reputation for developing NFL talent as the reigning national champs, but it has had three players drafted in the past five years and some other notable alums, including a Tigers quarterback who spent over a decade in the NFL: Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Last week, White spoke with Garrett, who served as the backup QB on two Super Bowl teams.
“His message to me was to really hone in on what you want in a college experience and the fact that Princeton will provide you a gateway to meet a whole bunch of different people from different backgrounds, a big diverse group of people go to Princeton,” White says. “And those relationships that you make there will be life-long and they’re gonna open up plenty of different paths in life that you may want to take.
“He said the Ivy level of competition has gotten a lot better from when he was there. So more Ivy kids have a better shot to make it into the league. That was eye-opening, but if you’re good enough the NFL will find you.”
White also is friendly with Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff, who just finished up a record-setting career. Another Southern California product, Kanoff turned down an SEC offer (Vanderbilt) for the Tigers. “We talked about how I’d be playing a system that suits your skill set, in a spread, but also that Princeton is such a great experience both on and off the field,” White says. “[Kanoff] told me, ‘They’re gonna put you in the best position to succeed in life in whatever path you want to take.’”
The Whites have gotten quite an education in recruiting. Brevin’s older brother Brady was a four-star QB who signed at Arizona State. After an injury-plagued career in Tempe, he will play in the fall at Memphis as a grad transfer. Brevin landed some hefty offers as a sophomore with Washington, Washington State, Arizona State and Oregon State all in pursuit. The family also toured many of the top academic FBS programs, from Stanford to Cal to UCLA to Notre Dame (where Brevin’s older sister is a student who works in the ND recruiting office) to Northwestern and Boston College. But Brevin had gotten the run-around more than once from staffs telling him he was their top target only to take a commitment from a different quarterback the next day.
“It’s not the most fun thing to go through when there’s deceit going on or somebody tells you something and does another thing,” White says. “But it’s recruiting. It’s a business. There’s gonna be a lot of that. I understand it now to the point where I don’t feel bad for myself. You gotta take some things with a grain of salt when you’re going through the process. I’m a big believer in that everything happens for a reason, and that’s what I clung to going through the process. At the end of the day, I ended up at the best spot where I could possibly go.”
If Brevin had accepted the Tide’s offer, he would probably have left for Tuscaloosa this week to get situated—he has already graduated high school and would have started their mini-semester at Alabama on Feb. 12. Instead, he began his Monday the same way he had the previous two weeks, waking up at 5:15 a.m to get a workout in before going to his internship at Morgan Stanley. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he helps out doing paperwork, organizing files, putting together his bosses’ performance reports and other small tasks around the office. On Tuesday, he’ll start taking two business courses at College of the Canyons. He hopes it’ll all help him get ready for Princeton this summer.
Asked how he feels to be known as the recruit who turned down Alabama for Princeton, White says he shouldn’t be looked at any differently than any other recruit, "but one thing that I do like from all this happening is I hope I set a trend and open the eyes of some other recruits to really visualize what they want in a college experience and focus on the bigger picture rather than just having fun for four years in college. This process has been a great blessing. I really do hope that other recruits see this as a rare opportunity and the Ivy Leagues make a bigger push for bigger-time athletes.
“It’s not the easiest route to go where you look in the stands at all these big colleges and you see 100,000 fans. ‘Wow, it’d be cool to run out of the tunnel in front of that and play in front of those crowds and you’re getting your school paid for.’ You get a nice place to live. All of those things are nice. At the end of the day, there’s a greater payoff from Princeton and all of the Ivies if you apply yourself and work hard because they do offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just in a different way than the bigger universities."