Taking the Leap
Former Hawk returns home as NFL assistant
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 â 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. Heâll return to New England this weekend when the Colts visit the Patriots. With his parents planning to attend, itâll be a special mark on an unlikely journey â one that was all driven by the same undercurrent that carried a Bishop Hendricken Hawk to the football fields of the Southeastern Conference.
âI never wanted to look back and say âWhat if?ââ White said.
Heâs 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.
âI wanted a chance to play at the highest level,â he said. âI took a leap of faith and went down there.â
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 bachelorâs degree in finance and a masterâs 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.
âHe always told me I should get into coaching,â White said. âWhen the GA opening came up, we talked about it and decided to give it a go.â
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.
âWhen you start out, youâre just looking for a break,â White said. âYou 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.â
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 didnât 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.
âHe called and said, âIâd love to see you be a part of what weâre building here,ââ White said. âI was obviously excited, but at the same time, I really enjoyed my job at Air Force. It was a great fit.â
Ultimately, it came down to another leap of faith.
âIt was something I couldnât pass up,â White said. âThereâs only 32 teams in the NFL. These are coveted spots. When you get a chance, it may not come back around again.â
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.
âYou start making the gameplan and you realize youâre preparing for the Green Bay Packers,â White said. âYou go out to practice and youâre working with Dwight Freeney. It takes a while for that to wear off.â
White has settled in now and finds himself as part of one of the NFL seasonâs 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. Theyâll carry a 6-3 record into Sundayâs game with the Patriots.
âItâs been a special, special place to be,â White said. âObviously, itâs not something you want to see happen. Chuckâs not here but we feel him in the building every day. The group of guys here â the coaches, the players, the ownership â everybody believes in the system and the process. Itâs a fun place to be.â
The Colts will take their show on the road this weekend, but itâll be a homecoming for White. Coaching at Air Force, which is in Colorado, didnât afford many opportunities to come back East. His parents, Bill and Lynn still live in Portsmouth and theyâll be in the stands.
Theyâre Patriots fans, but for one day, thatâll change.
âIt should be an exciting time going back,â White said. âMy friends and family are all Patriots fans but at least a couple of them will be converted. Itâll be fun. Just to be part of that rivalry will be pretty special.â
The last time White was on a football field in New England, he never imagined the fields heâd be walking 12 years later.
But heâs glad he took that leap.
âYou never stop being grateful,â he said.