Mason White bucks the 'holdback' trend to excel as a 15-year-old junior at Birmingham

Mason White bucks the 'holdback' trend to excel as a 15-year-old junior at Birmingham
Mason White as a 13-year-old freshman, left, and as a 15-year-old junior. (Jim Rose and Eric Sondheimer)

If someone is talented in sports, why hold them back no matter how young they are?

Khalil Tate, a former quarterback at Gardena Serra, starts the college football season at Arizona as a rare 19-year-old junior. Mason White, a receiver-defensive back at Lake Balboa Birmingham, began the high school football season as a 15-year-old junior.


Their parents ignored the “holdback” trend, in which students repeat a grade to help themselves develop physically and become more dominant in sports. It has led to a growing number of 19-year-old seniors in basketball and 16-year-old freshmen playing against 14-year-olds in football.

To play varsity football, you have to be 14. White was so talented as a 13-year-old freshman in 2016 that Birmingham coach Jim Rose was ready to place him on varsity. But his birthday wasn’t until November, so he was not eligible before the season ended.

White is finally starting to mature and adjust. He’s now 6 feet 1, 170 pounds.

“He’s just young,” Rose said. “It’s weird he’s only 15. You can tell he’s a lot better than last year, and he was All-City.”

In Birmingham’s season opener against Studio City Harvard-Westlake, White caught two passes for 78 yards and rushed for 90 yards in eight carries while also playing safety on defense.

“I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I felt a little uncomfortable last year. It was all new for me.”

But playing against older players has also made him better.

Birmingham has sent its share of players to major-college programs, and White is destined to join the list. College recruiters are always shocked when they hear his age.

“They’re amazed by his age because there are so many holdbacks,” Rose said.

Birmingham is on a run with players sticking with their classmates. Besides White, there’s 14-year-old freshman Arlis Boardingham, a receiver-defensive back who plays on varsity and is a top track and field performer, and 13-year-old freshman running back Marcus Arthur, who’s on the JV team and rushed for more than 100 yards in his high school debut.

Arthur can’t play on varsity until he turns 14 in November, when Birmingham would need to be deep into the playoffs.

“I would love for him to play in that game,” Rose said.

If Tate were to win the Heisman Trophy, perhaps parents would be less afraid to let their kids succeed or fail based on their natural progression.

City Section progress: It’s been a dismal opening two weeks for City Section football teams. Most just can’t compete very well against Southern Section teams.


There were signs of progress last week. Venice, after losing to Santa Fe Springs St. Paul, 38-0, received four touchdown passes from Luca Diamont in a 35-30 win over Harvard-Westlake.

San Fernando, after losing to Mission Hills Alemany, 43-0, received three touchdowns from Nehemiah Thompson in a 42-27 win over Canyon Country Canyon.

Serra wins: Gardena Serra traveled to Northern California on Saturday and defeated San Mateo Serra, 41-22, in an Honor Bowl game. Junior quarterback Doug Brumfield passed for four touchdowns. Melquan Stovall caught two TD passes and ran for a score.

First-year standout: Remember the name Ceyair Wright. He’s a sophomore at Los Angeles Loyola, and he’s got star power. In his varsity debut against Fairfax, he returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 55-yard run.