Jalen White waited most of his life to be the star running back for the Souderton High football team.
He watched his three older brothers play for the Big Red.
He bided his time during his first three seasons in the program, serving as a varsity reserve as a sophomore and junior.
He cooled his heels, like every other player in Southeastern Pennsylvania, as the start of this season was delayed until October because of coronavirus restrictions.
And then it was over in a flash — five carries for 73 yards in the opener vs. Quakertown before a broken thumb sent him to the sideline, seemingly for good.
“When I got hurt, I was bawling my eyes out,” White said after leading Souderton to a 31-17 victory over Pennridge on Friday night in the District 1 Class 6A championship game. “My first thought was that, ‘It’s the first game, shortened season, and my season is done.’ ”
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound White missed just one game, although he needed surgery and has played with a cast that protects his left thumb. He has rushed for 700 yards on 90 carries (7.8-yard average) with 12 touchdowns for the Big Red.
White carried 24 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half, as third-seeded Souderton captured the first district title in program history Friday night at Helman Stadium on Pennridge’s campus. He was limited in the second half by cramps.
“Jalen ran possessed until he started cramping up,” Souderton coach Ed Gallagher said.
Gallagher said White’s injury in the opener was especially devastating because he had worked so hard to prepare for his senior season.
“All that work and all of a sudden he’s standing there on the sideline, helpless,” Gallagher said.
White underwent surgery to put a bone in his thumb back in place and repair a ligament. He was convinced that his season, and his career, were over.
“We didn’t find out until maybe like a week after the surgery that I would be able to come back,” White said. “All I knew was that I was going to be out for the season. It was just distraught. I was broken.”
Cleared to return, White took the field with a fury. He scored two touchdowns in his first game back, against District 1 Class 5A champion Upper Dublin. He went for 117 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries vs. Hatboro-Horsham. He generated 233 yards and five touchdowns on 12 carries vs. Bensalem.
“He’s a running back who really sets up his blockers,” Gallagher said. “He’s a slasher, and for a kid who is 175 pounds, he delivers a blow.”
White said Souderton’s first district title was extra special to him because his three brothers had played for the Big Red.
“I have three older brothers who played here, amazing players,” White said. “I guess I finished the job that they couldn’t.”
White, who has drawn recruiting interest from NCAA Division II schools in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, said he and his teammates are looking forward to the challenge of facing St. Joseph’s Prep (4-0), the two-time reigning state champion and consensus No. 1 team in the state, in Saturday’s semifinals at Cardinal O’Hara.
“It will be a good experience,” White said. “I’m excited, and I’m sure everybody is. We’ll prepare like it’s a normal game. We’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
For everyone associated with the Souderton program, this has been a season for the ages — seven straight wins, an upset of the top seed to secure the Big Red’s first district title in history.
For White, it’s been all that and more, since it was a season that nearly ended as soon as it began.
“This means everything,” White said. "I was positive my season was going to be over. I did not think I was going to be able to come back. But thanks to God, I was able to come back.
“I knew after I got hurt and God gave me a second chance, we had to do this. We had to bring this championship back to Souderton.”