A New Playing Field
Linebacker with Super Bowl champs embraces Standardbred horses and harness racing
story by Rich Fisher
Devin White makes his living in a ferocious, violent world where massive men smash into each other with frightening impact; bodies tremble, bones break and heads vibrate within helmets.
It’s no wonder each warrior needs a relaxing oasis to recharge his batteries, and White’s paradise of choice is horses.
Make no mistake, football is an arena where White has excelled in his first two seasons as linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot, 235-pounder made the All-Rookie team in 2019 and was a second-team All-Pro last year. He led the Bucs in tackles in their first two 2021 playoff wins and garnered 12 tackles while making the game-sealing interception against Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.
“He’s been a leader all his life,” said Mike Caldwell, Buccaneers interior linebackers coach, in an interview with The Advocate newspaper. “If you know him, you know that as soon as you meet him. His personality just pops at you. He’s a guy that guys will follow.”
With all that success comes fame and adulation, but also lots of scrutiny and little privacy. Even superstars within the NFL pressure cooker need a decompression outlet and White finds his by mounting a horse. A native of tiny Springhill, La., he began riding at age 5. Nowadays it allows him to get away from the masses and be as one with his animal.
“It’s laid back, man,” the affable White said. “It’s calm. I always call it heaven on earth, it’s so therapeutic. You go on a six-mile horse ride by yourself, nobody around you. You can think a lot, just you and the horse. The horse obviously ain’t gonna bother you or get on your nerves. You can just be relaxed. It’s always been just a peaceful factor.”
That love affair has led White into the more heart-pounding aspect of horses as he and friend Adam Hawthorne have partnered in the harness racing business. They own several broodmares and three 2-year-old racehorses purchased at last Labor Day’s Illini Classic Yearling Sale.
Both men are from the Bayou State and met several years ago through a common friend, Todd John of All N Stables in Louisiana. White was still enjoying an All-America career at Louisiana State University (LSU) when he and Hawthorne first crossed paths.
“I met Adam through Todd; they kind of dealt with each other with Standardbreds,” White recalled. “Todd said, ‘Hey, if you want a good ride with a horse, my buddy Adam will hook you up. He’ll get you straight.’ We kind of kicked it off that way.”
Hawthorne added, “Devin bought some trail-riding type horses from me and I introduced him into the Standardbred world. We purchased some Standardbreds together and that’s kind of how it got started. He’s gotten his feet wet a little bit.
“He’s really enjoying it. We’ve got a good group of horses. Our plan is to get him to move into it in a bigger way. He’s trusted me to lead him in the right direction. I’ve tried my best, obviously.”
While White was not a total stranger to Standardbreds when the purchases were made, he realized he had a lot to learn.
“I followed the trot and the pace,” he said. “When it came on, it was on one of those weird TV channels, and you just kind of stop and look at it. So I kind of knew about it, but I didn’t know things like ‘Oh, this is the top of the line.’ I didn’t know any of that until I actually started getting into it and started caring about bloodlines.
“Adam makes all the big-time decisions because he’s got more experience than myself, and I just kind of back him up. Obviously, I’ve got something to focus on that’s way more important than racing right now.”
Nonetheless, White is tackling harness racing with the same zeal as when he pursues Aaron Rodgers. He struck up a friendship with USTA Member Services Representative Kim Hemming—who helped Devin with some paperwork on his broodmares—and she has become a mentor.
“Miss Kim has given me a lot of insight; she sent me a lot of books and information,” White said. “So I’m learning more and more every day.”
“He’s starting from the bottom of it and doing a lot of it himself,” said Hemming, who received an autographed jersey from White for her help. “He just seems like he’s so willing and ready to learn about everything he can about a Standardbred horse.”
Hawthorne, who is also bringing the Buffalo Bills’ Ed Oliver and Cincinnati Bengals’ William Jackson into the business, echoed Hemming’s thoughts.
“He’s 100 percent trying to learn it,” the veteran horseman said. “We’re doing a little traveling and I’m letting him see different farms, talk to different trainers at the bigger tracks. Just taking him around to a few places to learn the aspects of the trotting and the pacing industry. We are planning on purchasing 10 to 15 horses maybe [this] fall.”
White is learning not only from books, but also has first-hand knowledge of how it feels to take the lines.
“I jog my horses,” he said. “I had been used to it already because we jogged my riding horses, just to let them trot so you’re not on their back all the time. It was something I was really comfortable doing, sitting in the bike. I used to take them around. I didn’t really go fast. I didn’t turn them on so I didn’t get that race feeling. I jogged them light but it was at a good speed. I would jog three or four miles.”
As for jogging his own horses, White said, “It was fun just knowing it was my stock, and that this horse can get me in the winner’s circle.”
White still owns several riding horses that he bought in college, when he drew widespread attention for the public display of riding his steeds around inside his home stadiums. While at LSU, he rode his “first love,” Daisy Mae, around Tigers Stadium. After Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl, he rode his Standardbred Artistic Dream around Raymond James Stadium while hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
“They both had their own meaning,” he said. “They were both at different times in my life so they both gave me a different feeling. But I was grateful to have the opportunity to do both.”
Sadly, Daisy Mae died in July of 2019.
“She meant a lot. She was the first horse I ever bought with my own money when I was in college. I took care of her myself. It was kind of difficult,” said White of losing the mare.
White is looking forward to seeing what his 2-year-old Standardbreds can do this year, but admits he’ll have football to focus on as well.
The horses Hawthorne purchased in Illinois last September, for a combined $32,000, were the 2-year-old filly trotters Timber Creek Molly (Designer Lindy-Vengeful) and Creations Dream MV (Credit Creation-Doc Simon’s Dream), and 2-year-old colt trotter First And Goal (Cassis-Spedita Hanover).
What? A racehorse named First And Goal owned by a pro football defensive player?
“I know man, it’s crazy,” White said with a laugh.
The horses were trained by Herman Weaver in Louisiana during the winter and shipped to Illinois in the spring. The plan was to begin racing Creations Dream MV and First And Goal on the Illinois County Fair circuit in late June before moving on to Hawthorne Race Course.
“We feel like they had good training sessions,” said White. “I went and watched them jog, watched them train. But you never want to count your eggs before they’re hatched. The rest of it is in their hands now. It’s what they go out and do. At the end of the day they can do great, or anything can happen.
“It’s always a gamble and we’re excited. It’s kind of a gamble you really want to take. You put a lot into the horses, you watch them grow, you watch them come from the sale to what they’re doing now, so we’re excited.”
White doubts he will make harness racing a career when his football days are over, saying it’s more of a passion than a job. But he approaches it with the same competitive zeal as his day job. In late May, he was imagining what it would be like to see one of his horses in the winner’s circle.
“That’ll be a fun feeling because you put a lot of work into it to win,” he said. “That’s why we do everything. If you don’t do something to win, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Obviously, being a competitor, if you don’t win you just try to always come back strong. It gives you something more to look forward to, to try and get in the winner’s circle.
“That’s the ultimate goal.”
Well, that and another Super Bowl ring, of course. HB
Rich Fisher is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.