FOOTBALL

York High's Sam Stoner, Jahiem White to continue football journey at West Virginia

The Bearcats' quarterback and running back both signed with the Mountaineers on Wednesday.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Sam Stoner and Jahiem White couldn’t have known they would be forever linked in York High football history when they first suited up for the Bearcats as freshmen. Now their legacies at the school are inseparable.

The quarterback and running back scored their first touchdowns in the same 2019 game. They teamed up to play starring roles as the program continued its ascent. Earlier this fall, they became York High’s all-time passing and rushing yardage leaders in the same contest. And they remained close off the field, together navigating the unique challenges of the inner-city school.

And on Wednesday, the duo officially signed to play college football together at West Virginia.

York High football's Jahiem White, left, and Sam Stoner sign their letters of intent to play for West Virginia in a ceremony at the Accountability for Life (AFL) building in York on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.

White, a three-star running back, had verbally committed to the Mountaineers in December 2021, becoming the first member of their 2023 class. Stoner earned a preferred walk-on offer in the summer and weighed it against Division I FCS and Division II scholarship offers before making his decision earlier this month. 

“It’s an exciting time for everybody here in York, especially for these two and our school district,” said Russ Stoner, Sam’s father and the Bearcats’ head coach.

York High had won 12 games in seven seasons before Russ Stoner took over the program in 2016. After going 1-9 in his first year, the Bearcats flipped the script and won nine times in 2017. They went 11-2 in 2018 and posted a 27-12 record with the FBS-bound tandem in tow.

The wins have brought an uptick in Division I college interest for York High’s star players. The Bearcats have had several signees at the FCS level and plenty more play Division II ball in Pennsylvania. Now, not just one but two stalwarts are headed to the Big 12, showing their younger teammates what’s possible.

“We just want to continue to build that foundation that was already started for us,” Sam Stoner said, “and then (the younger players) can follow it.”

Decorations fill the table as York High football's Sam Stoner and Jahiem White sign with West Virginia on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, in York.

‘DREAM COME TRUE’

White’s athletic ability is evident after seconds of seeing him in action. It was evident when he first started playing football as a 5-year-old in Miami. But his journey outside of football presented plenty of obstacles. He moved from South Florida to York with his mother at age 12 amid financial challenges and went back and forth during middle school. A naturally shy and quiet person, he adjusted slowly to the new setting. 

While piling up 5,378 rushing yards for the Bearcats, he grew as a person and communicator off the field. He became a leader in the locker room this year. Now he’ll enroll at West Virginia in January after an early high school graduation.

“For me, signing day is like a dream come true,” White said.

York High’s Jahiem White runs the ball in for a touchdown during PIAA District 3, Class 6-A quarterfinal football action at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. Central York would win the game 51-44. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Bearcats have had no shortage of backfield stars of late. Khalid Dorsey signed with Howard in the 2018 class, then Dayjure Stewart rushed for over 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns that fall and signed with Illinois State. Both running backs currently play at Division II schools back in Pennsylvania (Dorsey at Shippensburg, Stewart at IUP).

Those two, among others, helped open the door for White, and “Florida” burst through it. He ran for 380 yards in a game against Dallastown as a sophomore. He had a career day against those Wildcats this October, amassing 417 rushing yards and six touchdowns while adding a seventh score on a pick-six. He posted 328 yards and three TDs as York High nearly knocked off rival Central York in the PIAA District 3 playoffs last month.

White joins a crowded running back room at WVU. Three Mountaineers rushed for at least 400 yards last year and all were underclassmen. But White has the talent and versatility — he was one of the York-Adams League’s best pass-catchers — to make an impact in short order. If he does, he’ll have his predecessors to thank.

“It was the building of the program that got him the recognition to get to that level,” Russ Stoner said. “But obviously he’s talented. I think his biggest thing is, he’s strong, he has a really low center of gravity, he’s physical. … He’s gonna go down there and he’s gonna have to compete, so I can’t wait to see what happens with him in that environment.”

‘WOULDN’T BET AGAINST HIM’

Russ Stoner withheld football from his son until high school because he didn’t want him to pick up bad habits by starting too young. But Sam certainly inherited his father’s athletic ability. Russ rushed for over 2,000 yards and won a district title as a student-athlete at West York, and he also starred in basketball and volleyball for the Bulldogs. Sam was a competitive swimmer for nine years; Russ believes he would have been among the best in the state had he swam in high school.

The younger Stoner tagged along to football games while his father coached at Central York as an assistant, then at Spring Grove and York High as head coach. Sam always studied the game, and he had natural arm talent when he started playing. He was the JV quarterback as a freshman, then became the varsity starter in 2020. Stoner went on to throw for 5,296 yards and 66 touchdowns, pairing with White to lead one of the district’s most explosive offenses.

York High's Sam Stoner looks to pass the ball during football action at Dallastown Area High School in York Township, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. York High would win the game 36-20. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Sam’s first college offers came this spring from FCS programs Towson and St. Francis. He received interest from several D-II schools as well. He was planning to commit to Towson before longtime head coach Rob Ambrose was fired by the school in November. All along, the preferred walk-on offer from West Virginia was the wild card. He had visited the school multiple times with White and grown close with head coach Neal Brown and running backs coach Chad Scott.

“When Coach Scott called me and offered me a preferred walk-on, I was calling (Jahiem) after and I was like, ‘We could really end up together for four more years,’” Sam Stoner said. “That was crazy.”

Stoner again visited WVU when the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma in October, and the longer he thought about it, the more everything kept “pointing back” to the school, he said. Brown’s visit to York earlier this month sealed the deal, and Stoner committed on Dec. 8. Like White, he will enroll early and join the program in the spring.

The top student in his class, Stoner will be on an academic scholarship that lessens the financial burden of out-of-state tuition. And the Mountaineers’ QB picture is murky after incumbent starter J.T. Daniels transferred to Rice. While there’s more to this decision than a path to playing time, perhaps that might be in Stoner’s future as well.

“I’m not counting him out,” his father said. “I just truly wouldn’t bet against him. A guy that is trying to prove himself, a guy that works hard and a guy that has some talent is a dangerous person.”

A table is set up at the Accountability for Life (AFL) building in York in advance of the signing day ceremony for York High football's Sam Stoner and Jahiem White on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.

‘BEST VERSION OF YOU’

The best way to prepare for life as a college football player, Russ Stoner believes, is to become one early. White and Sam Stoner will move to Morgantown, W.V., in the coming weeks and enroll in college for the spring semester. 

By doing so, they’ll be able to participate in spring practice and train with the team for several months before the other members of their signing class even graduate high school. Russ Stoner has made it a priority for players to have this option; he said multiple Bearcat underclassmen have their academics in order such that they could graduate next December should they have a similar opportunity.

Both of these players are familiar with facing pressure. They’ve faced it on the field and carried the weight of inside and outside expectations. Stoner put in on himself to outperform any doubts that he wouldn’t be starting if his dad weren’t coaching. Now the pressure will come in the form of acclimating to college, competing for spots and giving a school and region something to be proud of.

“There are thousands and thousands of kids in District 3 that wish they were going to West Virginia on Jan. 6,” Russ Stoner said. “And now you owe that to all these other kids to go down there and be the best version of you.”

West Virginia went 5-7 this season and is 22-25 in four years under Brown, who came to the school after a successful tenure at Troy. Rumors swirled in recent months about a coaching change despite Brown having signed an extension in 2021, although no move was made. The Mountaineers’ 2023 high school recruiting class ranks 39th nationally and seventh among 10 teams in the Big 12, per the 247Sports Composite.

But there’s always reason to believe in a program with a strong tradition and loyal fan base. Things can change quickly in college football, and West Virginia’s 2023 signees believe they can be part of that. The belief echoes through a group chat that includes White, Stoner and the Mountaineers’ other commits. And with signing day complete, it’s time to take action.

“(We want to) change it, bring it back on top,” White said. “With the ’23 class that we’ve got, just keep it up.”