When Brad White closed out a standout football career at Bishop Hendricken in 2000, he was all set to play at Yale. Instead, he took a leap of faith and walked on at the University of Georgia.
It was the first of many leaps – from Rhode Island to Georgia, from Georgia to Wake Forest, from investment banking to coaching football.
And now to the National Football League.
White is in his first year as an assistant defensive coach for the Indianapolis Colts. He’ll return to New England this weekend when the Colts visit the Patriots. With his parents planning to attend, it’ll be a special mark on an unlikely journey – one that was all driven by the same undercurrent that carried a Bishop Hendricken Hawk to the football fields of the Southeastern Conference.
“I never wanted to look back and say ‘What if?’” White said.
He’s never had to.
White was born in Concord, Mass. His father was in the Air Force so the family bounced around before settling in Portsmouth. White starred at Hendricken and committed to play at Yale.
But he was drawn to something bigger.
“I wanted a chance to play at the highest level,” he said. “I took a leap of faith and went down there.”
He walked on with the Bulldogs, but after his freshman season, head coach Jim Donnan was fired. An assistant with Georgia, Brad Lambert, hooked on at Wake Forest and encouraged White to follow him. He took that leap of faith, too, and ended up starting at linebacker for three seasons.
White earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in accounting. He moved to Dallas and went into investment banking.
But the football itch was still there, and when Lambert called about a graduate assistant opening at Wake, White listened. He discussed the possibility with his wife, Kate, and decided to make a career change.
“He always told me I should get into coaching,” White said. “When the GA opening came up, we talked about it and decided to give it a go.”
He spent two years at Wake Forest before he was offered the chance to coach the secondary at I-AA Murray State in Kentucky. He spent one year there before seizing another opportunity and taking a job as the inside linebackers coach at the Air Force Academy in 2010.
“When you start out, you’re just looking for a break,” White said. “You just want some program to take a shot and give you a chance to coach a position. I got that break at Murray, and I had an unbelievable experience there.”
White envisioned himself staying at Air Force for a while, but an old Rhode Island connection was about to open another door. Earlier this year, Ryan Grigson was hired as the Colts general manager. He had previously been a scout with the Eagles and had come across White at Wake Forest. Grigson has a house in Rhode Island, and since he didn’t see many Rhode Island players in the Division I football ranks, he took special interest in White. The two struck up a friendship then and kept in touch over the years.
When Grigson got the Colts job, he reached out to White.
“He called and said, ‘I’d love to see you be a part of what we’re building here,’” White said. “I was obviously excited, but at the same time, I really enjoyed my job at Air Force. It was a great fit.”
Ultimately, it came down to another leap of faith.
“It was something I couldn’t pass up,” White said. “There’s only 32 teams in the NFL. These are coveted spots. When you get a chance, it may not come back around again.”
White took it, moving with Kate and their daughter Julia, now 17 months old, to Indianapolis.
White works as the defensive quality control coach. He works closely with the defensive coordinator, breaks down film and makes initial assessments for the game plan. During practice, he also spends a lot of time working with the defensive line.
Initially, there was an awe factor.
“You start making the gameplan and you realize you’re preparing for the Green Bay Packers,” White said. “You go out to practice and you’re working with Dwight Freeney. It takes a while for that to wear off.”
White has settled in now and finds himself as part of one of the NFL season’s great stories. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in September and left the team to undergo treatment. Earlier this month, it was announced that the leukemia is in remission.
The team and the Indianapolis community have rallied around their coach, and on the field, the Colts have been resurgent. They’ll carry a 6-3 record into Sunday’s game with the Patriots.
“It’s been a special, special place to be,” White said. “Obviously, it’s not something you want to see happen. Chuck’s not here but we feel him in the building every day. The group of guys here – the coaches, the players, the ownership – everybody believes in the system and the process. It’s a fun place to be.”
The Colts will take their show on the road this weekend, but it’ll be a homecoming for White. Coaching at Air Force, which is in Colorado, didn’t afford many opportunities to come back East. His parents, Bill and Lynn still live in Portsmouth and they’ll be in the stands.
They’re Patriots fans, but for one day, that’ll change.
“It should be an exciting time going back,” White said. “My friends and family are all Patriots fans but at least a couple of them will be converted. It’ll be fun. Just to be part of that rivalry will be pretty special.”
The last time White was on a football field in New England, he never imagined the fields he’d be walking 12 years later.
But he’s glad he took that leap.
“You never stop being grateful,” he said.