Eli White provides Battle football team with motivation, joy

Thursday, October 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:23 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 10, 2013
From left, juniors Alex Hedgcoth, Eli White and wide receiver Cameron Hawkins watch wrestling clips on the sidelines of Spartans football practice Tuesday. White often comes to practices to support the players. Hedgcoth is taking 10 days off after pulling his quad.

COLUMBIA — Battle High School's Eli White — aka "Crazy Ray" — might well rattle the most shoulder pads on the school's football team.

And he does so without ever playing a snap.

Before Tuesday's practice, White hung out under the breezeway adjacent to Battle's locker room. About 4:30 p.m., football players began emerging from the room, tightening the straps on their pads and pulling on practice jerseys. Several Spartans came White's way, offering a fist-bump or a slap on the shoulder. He smiled so big that his eyes were mere slits, and as the mass of players headed toward the field, he filed in with them.

The players began stretching, filling the half of the field closest to the gym. White strolled through the neat rows they had formed, pausing occasionally to joke with a player or shake a hand. As the Spartans finished limbering up, he made his way over to the bench on the near sideline and sat down next to Alex Hedgcoth, a lineman who's out with a strained quad.

White and Hedgcoth discussed the finer points of Big Show's return to WWE's "Monday Night Raw" — the wrestling superstar knocked out an unsuspecting Triple-H in his return from being fired. When they'd exhausted wrestling, their conversation turned to football.

Sporting a Baltimore Ravens jersey, White shared one of his favorite memories: a trip to Baltimore to see a Ravens' preseason game. The trip was a birthday present, and he'd been lucky to snag a receiver's gloves from a Ravens player after the game.

White is a huge Ravens fan and an even bigger Ray Lewis fan, which led to the "Crazy Ray" nickname. He loves the Ray Lewis dance and does one, from time to time, to get the Spartans pumped up.

"I motivate the team," White said. "I tell 'em like Ray Lewis said ... 'We hit everything that moves today.'"

White is a junior with a disability at Battle. While he's not officially a football player, he's certainly a member of the team. Through his love for the game, he's created a unique role for himself on the Spartans' sideline: motivator. He's forged special relationships with some of the players and coaches, and his smile is a contagious fixture on Battle's sideline.

While White doesn't get to knock heads on the field, he smacks plenty of pads on the sidelines. When a Battle player makes a big play, it's not uncommon to see White clap him on the shoulder, rattling his pads, and say "good job." And like all battle-ready players, White dons his Spartans game jersey on Friday nights — he wears No. 53.

White earned his spot on the team after one of his teachers put a bug in Cedric Alvis' ear. Alvis, the Spartans defensive coordinator and a special educator at Battle, said he was told about a young man with a passion for football, a student who would make a great manager on the team.

White and Alvis began working together with the football team. White started spending time in the film room, participating in game walk-throughs and shadowing the defense at practice. As he grew more comfortable, White began to bounce around at practice, spending time with offense, defense and special teams, Alvis said.

Although White can't play football, Alvis said, "It doesn't matter."

"He can't play, but we have a lot of kids on the sideline who can't play. So with that being said, he's just another kid who comes out and loves football. He's another member of the team," Alvis said.

Alvis, the only other Spartan whose ear-to-ear smile rivals that of White, used one word to describe the team's motivator and manager: joy.

"I've never seen the kid in a bad mood," Alvis said. "He's ... a reminder to our kids ... of the blessing" it is to be able to play the game.

"Pretty much what you see ... is what you get," said Melissa White, Eli's mother. "He loves being around people, talking to people, being involved. He's always in a happy mood."

And the Spartans are happy to have him on the sideline as a teammate.

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