The story appeared in the Dallas edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Willie White knew his great-grandson was special from the moment he laid eyes on him -- so special that he couldn't be called just by his birth name. So before Darius White could even walk, Willie dubbed him D-Money. Since then, everyone has referred to Darius more by his nickname than his real name.
Well, everyone but Dunbar (Fort Worth, Texas) head football coach Todd Lawson. Lawson knew all about D-Money when White entered Dunbar as a freshman, but the coach refused to call him by his well-known moniker. Instead, Lawson decided to give White another nickname until he showed him something on the field.
"I used to call him Spare Change because he hadn't proved anything yet," says Lawson, who's in his fourth year at the helm. "When I started calling him D-Money, he said, 'I guess I've arrived.'"
Indeed he has. Now a 6-foot-4, 203-pound senior, White is rated the nation's No. 1 wide receiver in the ESPNU 150 and is being recruited by powerhouse programs like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, LSU and Notre Dame.
But before his sophomore year, White was more concerned about playing basketball. He says when he played on the freshman football team, he couldn't wait until the season was over so he could join the hoop team. Later that spring, though, Lawson convinced White he could be an elite wide receiver.
"He loved football, but his heart was in basketball," says Lawson. "He started looking that he was a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, whereas a 6-foot-4 basketball player is a dime a dozen. You can't find a 6-foot-4 wide receiver with his ability."
Lawson had to teach White how to use that ability, however. As a freshman, White just ran past and out-jumped opponents to make catches. Lawson stressed that wouldn't happen on varsity or beyond.
A cornerback at the University of Utah in the early '90s, Lawson didn't hold back while covering White in practice. The coach showed his rising star the physical style he'd see from defensive backs in college, proving White couldn't just rely on his strength and athleticism to make plays. He'd also have to outmaneuver his opponents, faking them out after the snap and running precise routes.
White listened and worked all summer in the hopes of having a huge sophomore campaign, his first on varsity.
"[Lawson] showed me something new and different every day that would help me go to the next level," says White, who still plans on playing basketball for the Wildcats this year. "I took how he played me and imagined that's how all the corners are going to play me. He taught me a lot of moves that have helped me a lot."
White proved himself to be a big-play threat his sophomore year as he caught 29 passes for 745 yards (25.7 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns. His explosiveness was on display in the regular season finale against Eastern Hills. The Wildcats trailed the Highlanders, 35-14, at halftime in a game they needed to win to reach the playoffs. White returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score early in the game but was held without a reception in the first half.
He knew his teammates needed a spark, so he went up to Lawson at the beginning of the second half and said, "Coach, just give me the ball."
Surprised at the confidence displayed by the normally reserved White, Lawson was pleased that the talented sophomore wanted the game in his hands. White backed up the bravado with two second-half touchdown receptions totaling 116 yards as the Wildcats rallied for a 41-38 victory.
"When the game's in doubt, he'll give you a look," says Lawson. "He's willing to take that challenge. That's a true winner right there."
White's teammates are similarly confident he'll step up come crunch time.
"When he goes up for a pass, I know he's going to catch it even if he's double- or triple-teamed," says senior linebacker Rashod Favors, an Oklahoma recruit. "No matter how hard you work, he's going to outwork you for the ball."
White uses a combination of effort, athleticism and skill to dominate the opposition. He has the speed (4.5 in the 40) to burn defenders, the hops (40-inch vertical) to snag a pass out of the sky and the hands to haul in seemingly everything thrown his way. Think of him as a high school version of Houston Texans star Andre Johnson. White used all his talents last year to catch 40 passes for 1,057 yards and 16 touchdowns.
But White's impact on the Dunbar program goes beyond what he can do on the field. He's extremely loyal to his teammates and has put off making a college decision so that Dunbar players without scholarship offers can have a chance to get noticed by coaches who come to watch White.
White is also solid in the classroom (3.2 GPA) and conscientious spiritually. Every Sunday morning he reminds his family and Lawson to make sure they're going to church. And if a classmate doesn't have enough money for lunch, White will buy it for them.
"That just shows what type of person he is," says Lawson. "All the accolades he's got are well worth it."
Now that's he's proved himself to his coach, D-Money is intent on earning his nickname and living up to his billing in college.
"I've got to improve for this year and next year and the year after that," he says. "There's still someone coming for the No. 1 spot."