RUMFORD — Mountain Valley’s football team didn’t quite feel whole until senior Nathan White returned from 11 weeks in basic training.
White, who comes from a family with a proud military tradition, feels more complete, too.
Football wasn’t far from White’s mind while he was grinding through boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. An outstanding cornerback and team leader, he couldn’t wait to get back to football once he got home, getting up early the next morning to watch his teammates scrimmage Fryeburg. He returned to practice the following Monday. Not surprisingly, he had a new perspective on how tough high school football practices can be.
“I don’t mind these practices at all,” he said. “A lot of people are saying it’s hot right now, but it’s not bad at all.
“Last year, it felt hot. But going from 115 to 85, it’s not bad.”
Recruiters didn’t sell White on the Midwest heat, or how boot camp would make football practice seem like a walk in the park. White has known his whole life that he wanted to serve his country. How to fit it best into his own future was the question.
“My great, great grandfather, my grandfather, my dad, they’ve all been in the military, so I grew up with it,” White said.
His great great grandfather, Edward Heath, served in the Army and was national commander of Disabled American Veterans. His grandfather served in the Army and was wounded in the Korean War.
White’s father, Shane, a marine, handed the tradition down to Nathan, who initially considered becoming a marine himself before eventually deciding on the Army. He enlisted May 5 and started boot camp exactly one month later.
“I talked with my recruiters from the National Guard. I want to go to college and the National Guard was a good option for that and still be in (the service),” White said. “After National Guard, I can still go active Army if that’s what I want to do after college.”
Mountain Valley coach Pat Mooney happily endorsed White missing summer football for boot camp. And he had little doubt he would excel in training.
“He’s tough and he’s intense,” Mooney said. “When he came up as a freshman, he was probably 115 pounds soaking wet, but he hit harder than any of our linebackers,” Mooney said. “It was unbelievable. We’d put him on scrub D against the varsity offense and he’d come up from the corner positions like a linebacker and make some good hits.”
White broke his arm early in his sophomore season but returned as the starting cornerback for his junior year. His physical presence helped the Falcons to their best record in five years (4-5) and a playoff berth.
Looking to maximize that presence, White, who also plays on special teams, will be moving from reserve running back to starting tight end this year.
“That shows you how tough of the kids is. He’s 145 pounds playing tight end in an unbalanced line,” Mooney said. “The heart is not a question.”
White’s heart even stood out at boot camp, where the physical training test was a two-mile run. He beat the rest of his platoon the last three times.
“Physically, it was about what you would expect. I mean, it’s not crazy physically tough,” White said. “If you are in some sort of shape, if you’re doing high school sports. you can do it.
“But mentally, it’s pretty tough. For a long time, you don’t get to talk to anybody, like, from home. If you’re home a lot and you just get taken away, it’s pretty rough,” added White, who moved from the Oxford Hills area in eighth grade. “Being around everybody there, it gets pretty stressful. People get on each other’s nerves. You’re so close together the whole time, and there’s no way to get away from them. I was very fortunate because my best friend from Oxford Hills, Stephen Daly, he also went. We ended up being put in the same platoon and we ended up being bunk-mates.”
The daily routine of boot camp changed over time, except for getting up at 4 a.m. every morning.
“There are three phases. You start off at ‘red phase,’ and that’s total control. You have no say. You wear a red vest the whole time. You have no free time. You’re just getting bossed around,” he said. “In that phase, we didn’t really do a lot of training. We did a couple of obstacle courses.”
“When we went to ‘white phase’ we got a few more responsibilities and we had more privileges,” he said. “We started to be able to write letters home and stuff like that. We did rifle marksmanship the whole phase, which is three weeks. Every day we were out on the range from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
White was at Hosmer Field at 8 a.m., just hours after getting back from boot camp, for the Falcons’ first scrimmage against Fryeburg. He didn’t suit up, but the Falcons were happy just to have him back.
“It’s a sense of security for our older guys,” Mooney said. “I mean, Hunter (Ames) and Ian (Brennick) are our captains, and they’re great leaders, but I think when he came back, everyone was breathing a sigh of relief, like, the leadership is whole now.”
White took some lessons from boot camp that the Falcons, who have high hopes for their first season in Class D South, can take with them on the field when they open the season tonight against rival Dirigo.
“You have to have confidence in yourself,” he said. “I mean, I’ve always been pretty confident in myself, and when I went down there, it was weird. I didn’t feel very confident at first. As we went through, I got confident, and that’s when I started to excel.”
“He’s in shape. He’s mentally ready to win,” Mooney said. “We haven’t had a whole lot of success the last few years, but we feel like if we’re going to turn it around, this group is a good one to do it with. And he is one of the catalysts of that.”
White is still considering his college options and may study in the criminal justice field. He will return to Fort Leonard Wood Military Police School next summer for 10 weeks, then plans to start college.
But his first mission is to help the Falcons once again become conquerors.
“I feel like if everybody on this team is confident and works hard, then we can make some people turn their heads,” he said.