Jason White always wondered from where came his fight, the resiliency that allowed him to win the 2003 Heisman Trophy after debilitating knee injuries each of the previous two seasons.
White figured his work ethic must have come from his father, who for 30 years has made his living pouring concrete.
But 15 months ago, White found another root of his determination. When Sue White was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2011, her son began realizing the gift he had been given.
“A lot of people are always asking me, the trying times, who was there to help you,” White said. “I've never really known where I got the drive, or my sister got the drive, to be better and continue to work hard through adversity.
“But the last year and a half, I watched my mom battle cancer. I was amazed the fight my mother had through the whole cancer process.
“Kind of reassured me that this wasn't something I learned. This was something given to me by my parents.”
Sue White's fight ended on April 1, when she died at the age of 58.
As Mother's Day approaches, memories flood the former University of Oklahoma football star.
Sue White supported both Jason and Jennifer (who was a star pitcher at Florida State University) while they were growing up in Tuttle. Took them to games. Took them to practice.
“She was a huge fan,” Jason said. “She kind of kept to herself. Didn't really get into ‘I can't believe you're talking about my kid that way.'”
Sue White offered comfort. Play well or play poorly, she was there to tell her kids that things would be all right.
“She was always reassuring,” Jason White said. “She always made everything OK … even when I had the lowest lows with the surgery, she took me to the surgery, she brought me home. Very caring all the time. She knew I was disappointed. She always seemed to make it better, just by what she said.”
Sue White never seemed to lose perspective. Jason says his mom was the same watching him in pitching-machine league as she was watching him play Texas in the Cotton Bowl. At the 2003 Heisman Trophy presentation, “she was excited to be in New York, excited to see me on the stage, but she didn't realize it was such a big honor to win it,” Jason said.
Through the years, Sue might stop by one of her son's autograph signings and still would be amazed at the line of people waiting for a signature.
Back in 2004, White threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-10 rout of the University of Kansas. So how did the reigning Heisman winner celebrate? With a trip to the mall with his mother, to buy new jeans.
Jason and Jennifer, now the softball coach at University of Sciences and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, each have two children. Sue White embraced grandmothering.
“The first time I saw her with my daughter, the shine she had about her was just amazing,” Jason said.
The kids called her “Granny,” and “her grandchildren were her life,” said Jason's wife, Tammy. “If people have two moms, I had two moms for sure.
“People who didn't get a chance to know her, or meet her, they really missed out. She was that great a person. She was awesome.”
But cancer is no respecter of awesome.
“Thinking back to all the hard times, to watch her fight through the cancer, the effort she gave was a lot more than I gave with the fight back through football,” Jason said of his journey from football despair to football glory.
And now he knows how that journey was fueled. “It's just amazing,” he said, “that came from her.”