Star with stripes, Tigers' White earns salute

May 27, 2002|By Mike Preston

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Princeton junior midfielder Josh White will get a little emotional today when the national anthem is played minutes before the Princeton vs. Syracuse national championship lacrosse game at Rutgers Stadium.

His mind will shoot back to his training days as an Army Ranger in Fort Lewis, Wash., outside of Seattle, then over to Afghanistan and then to Americans who have died fighting for their country.

Memorial Day has a very special meaning for White, who is currently on the Army's inactive reserve list.

"It's a shame, because this country has gotten away from what Memorial Day is really about," said White, 23, an Annapolis resident. "It has changed some, but it took a tragedy to wake up the American public. But I wouldn't have had the same feeling if I hadn't been in the military. Before then, I took a lot of things for granted. But every time I hear the national anthem now, I think about things a lot differently."

White's two-year stay in the military has had a profound effect on his life, and on Princeton's lacrosse team. When the Tigers were 2-4 earlier this season and lacrosse fans were saying the dynasty had ended, one of the major players to step forward was White.

A losing record and criticism were nothing compared with life in the Army's special operations infantry. White spent most of that time jumping out of planes.

"He has brought strength to this program," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "I mean that in a physical sense and in a maturity sense. When we got down 2-4 and were searching for leadership, our seniors got together and determined it was time to do that. But I think Josh, in particular, has scored in every game since then.

"He just found a way to be the guy who will take charge in practice or in the game if necessary," said Tierney, whose midfield was struggling early in the season. "He takes a pat on the back very humbly, and just goes about his business as you would expect from a guy who has gone through Rangers school."

Tierney sometimes makes White his whipping boy. There are few coaches as demanding at Tierney, and even fewer who have his in-your-face, bulging-neck-veins style. He goes after White because he knows White can handle it.

Actually, those Tierney tongue blisterings are amusing at times. "He knows he can take it out on me because he can't dish out anything that comes close to what I've taken from drill sergeants," said White.

White was accepted to Princeton before graduating from St. Mary's High, where he was a second-team All-Metro attackman and winner of two state wrestling titles in the 171- pound division.

White, though, deferred and opted for the Army. Princeton allowed him to enter once the military obligation was completed.

"I wasn't real excited about going to college coming out of high school," White said. "I wanted to do something else because I knew college was always going to be there. I was in no hurry. The training that I have had, though, has been great."

It turned out well for Princeton, too.

"I went through Rangers school, and it's the top leadership school in the military," White said. "They teach you how to assume a leadership role when things are tough, when there is battlefield fatigue, stress or you haven't slept for days. I equated it to lacrosse, when we were losing and our backs were against the wall. We needed somebody to step up."

White's leadership wasn't vocal. Never has been, never will be. He took charge by putting the ball in his stick and in the goal. He has 24 points, with at least one goal in each of the past eight games. Before that, he never had goals in consecutive games at Princeton.

White's technique isn't always pretty. He is a 5-foot-10, 184-pound bull. The Tigers have isolation plays for him where he either just runs over the defenseman or just keeps pushing and pushing until he gets enough separation to shoot.

"He is a great guy, a great person," said senior attackman Brendan Tierney, the coach's son. "The guys really respect him as a leader. He's a real low-key guy. He is in the weight room a lot, a real strong kid. He might be in the best shape of any player on the team."

White is also the target of a lot of jokes. He is the "old man" who'll turn 24 in August.

"Josh White is older than me," said Bill Tierney, laughing.

White is on the inactive reserve list now, but will become active once he graduates from Princeton. But he can be called to fight any time, something that is always in the back of his mind.

"There is no need for concern right now," said White. "Infantry shape is different from lacrosse shape, but I haven't gotten too far out of shape. So basically, I've still got another year or two to go."

The Princeton coaching staff doesn't mind that. In his first year back after joining the Army, White had seven goals and five assists. Last season, he missed seven games with a shoulder separation. This season he has 16 goals and eight assists, and next season he might be in position to gain All-America status.

"He is a very strong-willed guy," said Brendan Tierney. "He has had one heck of a year. He has stepped it up, and I'm sure he'll play well [today]."

True, right after he gives his undivided attention to the national anthem.

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