The linebacker for the 2021 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers said horses helped him deal with the death of his brother Jae Jae. White plans to be at Northfield Park next week to see his Pick A Rock compete in the opening leg of the $50,000 Iron Maiden Series.
by Bob Roberts
At first, as a young boy, it was the popular mode of transportation around his tiny hometown in northwest Louisiana. Tragically, as a teen, its existence became his escape, the protagonist in his quiet place. And today, as a premier professional athlete, it’s his fresh challenge to extend Sunday triumphs on 100 yards of manicured turf to success on half to one mile ovals of crushed limestone.
It’s the horse, a simple but majestic beast, that Devin White, a 24-year-old Super Bowl champion linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, keeps in the barn, at his side and near his heart.
No longer does he need one to get around — a four-year $29 million contract from the Bucs took care of securing luxury horsepower – so White now bonds with trotters and pacers to ease the lingering pain of losing his older brother and to satisfy his urge to win when he’s not flattening quarterbacks.
White, who has nearly a dozen horses in training, plans to be at Northfield Park on April 10 to see Pick A Rock, his promising 3-year-old pacer, compete in the opening leg of the $50,000 Iron Maiden Series.
“I learned to ride a horse before I learned to ride a bike,” said White. “I was about five. It’s how we got around. I grew up in a horse town.”
Apparently, tykes didn’t ride trikes in Cotton Valley, a town of about 1,000 that is less than an hour’s drive from Shreveport. Instead, they threw a leg over a horse and went on down the road.
“That’s just the way it was. I rode Tennessee Walkers,” said White, who turned to the care of horses to get him through a very dark time. His older brother Jae Jae, a standout high school athlete, was killed in a highway accident in 2011. He was 19. White was only 13.
“Horses helped me deal with his death,” said White. “When I’m with my horses, I’m in a good state of mind. I’m happy. There’s no time to go into dark moments, no bad memories. You know, I haven’t named a horse for Jae Jae just yet, but I will. It might be a race horse, or a horse just for me.”
Ironically, his brother’s favorite NFL team was Tampa Bay, the team that took White in the first round (fifth overall) in the 2019 draft in Nashville. White said Jae Jae was with him on draft night in spirit. As he awaited the phone call from the Bucs, he looked over at a framed photo of his brother that he had brought with him and placed on a table next to his chair.
White’s love of horses extended to the racetrack in 2021 with the creation of his stable, a partnership with fellow Louisianian Adam Ivan Hawthorne. Their friendship began years earlier when White went horse shopping.
“Devin came to my farm looking to buy a horse for trail-riding,” said Hawthorne. “We hit it off and I eventually introduced him to harness racing.”
With Herman Wheeler, breaking and training the White-Hawthorne trotters and pacers at his farm in Monroe, LA, success came quickly. Last June 27 at Chicago’s Hawthorne Racecourse, with White in attendance, the aptly-named First And Goal shot to the lead at the start and went wire-to-wire in a $17,500 leg of the Night of Champions trotting series.
“That was our first winner as a team,” said Hawthorne. “We’re just getting started. Devin is really getting into the harness sport, including breeding.”
Pick A Rock, a son of Ohio sire Pet Rock, is the barn’s rising star. An $18,000 auction ring purchase at the 2020 Buckeye Classic Yearling Sale, and under the care of trainer Bill Rhoades, he ripped off victories in his first two starts and failed to win a third by a mere half-length.
Although White left LSU after his junior year to become eligible for the NFL draft, he remained an academic Tiger. In August of last year, with his studies complete, he returned to Baton Rouge to collect his bachelor’s degree diploma in sports administration.
Graduation capped a memorable year for White. Six months earlier came Tampa Bay’s 31-9 Super Bowl victory over Kansas City. A week later, White, with one of his horses in tow, drove over to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the site of the championship game.
He had asked Jason Licht, the Buccaneers’ general manger, for permission to take a victory lap around the field on horseback and was given the green light.
“You earned it, cowboy!” Licht tweeted. “Giddy up!!!.”
With the Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand, White rounded the field astride a horse the media was told was named Dream. That was only half of her name. It was actually Artistic Dream, an unraced pacing daughter of Major In Art, winner of the 2008 $1 million Metro at Mohawk Racetrack.
“She’s one of my girls,” said White. “My love of horses is through the roof. “They bring a lot of joy to my life.”
Stay tuned. The joy may be exhibited at a racetrack near you. White was asked that if one of his charges should win the Little Brown Jug or the Hambletonian, would he gallop another horse around the Delaware Fairgrounds or the Meadowlands, trophy aloft?
“Damn sure would,” he said.