His purple jersey drenched in rain and sweat, Antoine White dug three fingers into the soaked turf at Bob Ford Field.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle lifted his bright yellow Riddell helmet and shot across the line of scrimmage, driving his man straight back into the quarterback.
It’s the first day of contact for the University of Albany football team, and White —who transferred from Penn State back in January — is looking to put his early stamp on spring practice.
It’s a different feeling for White, with a new football family. Three months ago, more than 16 million viewers watched him compete in the Rose Bowl and hundreds of media members crowded around his teammates. Now, a few local outlets follow along, and on a recent cold Saturday, only one reporter with a pen in hand watched the Great Danes practice.
But White regrets nothing — not leaving Penn State and certainly not spending three years there.
“We were a really tight group,” White said with a smile. “That really showed me what it meant to have a true team atmosphere, and it showed me what you need to do as a team and individual to get to that championship level.”
The moment he came in I knew he’d be a guy that could benefit the team, just his intensity in the weight room and his drive to get better.
Kassy Desir, Albany offensive lineman
White, who had 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks in a rotational role on Penn State’s 2016 defensive line, stood on the east sideline last season more often than not and watched his teammates form one of the Big Ten’s most feared defenses. The New Jersey native didn’t start in 2016 after appearing in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015.
White tried not to let the lack of time get to him, and he didn’t really consider leaving Penn State until after the 2016 campaign. “When you’re going through a season, especially as successful of a season as we had last year, it’s selfish to think like that during the week,” White added.
But on Penn State’s five-hour flight back from Hollywood, White’s mind started racing, thinking about where and what he wanted to be a year from that point.
“That’s when I started to put things together,” he said.
White, who had one tackle in his final five games as a Nittany Lion, spent a couple days milling around his Millville, N.J. home after the Rose Bowl to reflect on his Penn State career. There were no practices or meetings to distract him from putting serious thought into his future.
“I was just able to talk it out with my family, see where I was at, see where I wanted to be, and realize the goals that I set for myself,” White said.
When he returned to State College, White set up a “tough conversation” with his mentor, defensive line coach Sean Spencer. Next up was a chat with Penn State head coach James Franklin, “an honest dialogue,” according to the lineman.
White wasn’t surprised that both meetings went well, but he was certainly thankful. The 21-year-old got closure — and felt, without any doubt, that he left on good terms.
“In this thing, it’s easy to get caught up,” White said. “I really have a lot of trust in that staff. They were the reason I was able to release to certain schools. They helped me get noticed more, which is something they didn’t have to do. With me leaving, we had man-to-man conversations and had a good understanding. To this day, I still feel comfortable calling them up for anything.”
So, how did White end up at Albany?
For starters, Great Danes head coach Greg Gattuso has longstanding relationships with not only Franklin and Spencer, but also White. Gattuso, a member of Penn State’s 1982 national championship team, recruited White as an assistant at Maryland a few years ago.
Plus, White wouldn’t have to sit out a year at Albany. Transferring into an FCS program, he’d have the opportunity to play right away.
“Sometimes it’s just a really good fit,” Gattuso said. “That was the most important thing, and Antoine recognized that.”
White announced on Jan. 16 that he was transferring to Albany, and moved into his campus housing the very next day. He adjusted academically and jumped into the Great Danes’ winter workouts.
Instead of maxing out alongside his close friends and Penn State teammates — Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor and Torrence Brown, to name a few — White got acquainted with Albany defensive linemen Dominick Ferrara, Brian Dolce and Ibn Foster.
His new teammates took note of White right then and there, before he even stepped on the field.
“The moment he came in I knew he’d be a guy that could benefit the team,” Albany offensive lineman Kassy Desir said, “just his intensity in the weight room and his drive to get better.”
Desir saw first-hand why White was a sought-after recruit in high school, too. During that first contact practice, the two went head-to-head, and White, who’s working with the first-team, got the better of him most of the time.
Whether he was eating a double-team or cutting off a running lane, the former Nittany Lion showed promise — and his coach saw it.
“He’s a very powerful, physical man,” Gattuso said. “I think he can have a major impact on our defense if he continues to improve the way he is.”
The lineman thinks he can help take the Great Danes, who finished 7-4 last season, to new heights, as well.
“This team right here, we’ve got a good shot to go as far as anyone in the league,” White said. “They were real close last year, and the guys want to get back to that level again.”
And all the while, he’ll will be keeping close tabs on the Nittany Lions.
White may be 300 miles away, but he’ll still never forget his first family.