Over the last three years, coach Anthony White refined Santa Ana College’s football program. He made them winners. He also brought a new culture and a mindset for his student-athletes to carry with them outside of football.
“Don’t prove the others wrong. Prove me right. He always turned things into a positive,” said athletic director Mary Hegarty. “He was never motivated by anger, fear, or negativity. He was always motivated by doing better.”
The athletic department won’t forget those three years- which ended in a Southern California Bowl Championship. White, a few days after watching his team become champions, passed away from a battle with a rare and aggressive cancer.
Coach White was an alumnus of both Rosemead High School and the University of Utah, where he attended on an athletic scholarship and served as a resident advisor, student-body vice president, and senior captain for the Utah Utes football team.
“I’m heartbroken to hear of the passing of my old teammate and friend, Anthony White,” said Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “Anthony had a smile that would light up a room, a heart that was matched by very few, and an energy that drew others to him. He was an amazing father and husband, and he will be missed dearly.”
Before coming to Santa Ana College, White turned the unsuccessful Buena Park High School Coyotes into a top-10 Orange County team, defeating La Habra to complete an undefeated Freeway League Championship in 2016.
Having two young children at the time, Coach White then stepped away from coaching and was a youth and high school football camp host. He also commented on high school football games on the cable television station LA36.
Santa Ana needed help to win games around that time. They were in a rut and they decided to look for a new coach, in which they struck a vein of gold. White was on the radar.
“You don’t get impressed easily with people at Zoom meetings,” said Hegarty on her first impression of White.
Hegarty was blown away.
“I looked at him on the screen- and his whole demeanor- and I’m like ‘woah’,” Hegarty continued, “Just the way he sat there and was engaged on the zoom. The questions he asked were strategic thinking and high-level.”
Coach White would get the job for Santa Ana after the 2020 pandemic, his first game being in 2021.
In his first season, he led the Dons to an undefeated record in league play, getting first in the Metro League. He would prove that season wasn’t a fluke by going 13-2 in the league through his three years as head coach.
“Anthony was a special person,” said assistant coach Geoff Jones. “His drive, love of the game, and passion for helping student-athletes will be missed. The real-life experience that he brought and shared with our guys daily was invaluable.”
His players respected and admired him. He set an example of how to be a good person while molding great football players as well.
“Coach White was the most inspirational, the most dedicated, and the most determined. The last months he could’ve spent with his blood family, but he spent it with his football family,” said linebacker Blaze Iglesias. “His caringness and love will never be forgotten. He changed forever how I view the word ‘dedicated’”
Other key players echoed similar sentiments when asked about their head coach:
“I loved Coach White. He did everything the right way. He treated everybody with kindness and respect. He was incredibly honest, he would tell you exactly what he thought, and he was a man of his word. He loved his players and he loved his family. He was an incredible man. I’m forever grateful for Coach White. He always believed in me and gave me a shot. Many opportunities are now coming my way because Coach White believes in me. I will miss Coach White very much.”
-Dallen Engemann, quarterback
“I’m so thankful for him. Coach White was one of the most outstanding, genuine, uplifting people I’ve ever met. He gave me an opportunity for which I’ll forever be grateful. I’m so grateful for the lessons he taught. Coach White was such a great example. He was always looking to allow everyone and he strived to teach lessons that not only impacted his players on the field, but life lessons to take off the field.”
-Cannon King, wide receiver
“He was up there with the best coaches I’ve played in any sport. He would always encourage me to be better. Even after a 40-point win the next practice he would point out a kickoff and urge it to be a little higher or a little deeper. He made me a better player and a better man as well.”
-Aaron Hotchkiss, punter/kicker
“I was a freshman this year so I didn’t have as much time to experience coach white. But with the time I had with him, he showed me how dedicated and hardworking he was, giving us every ounce of effort he had every day. I’m very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to play for coach white and will not ever forget how he believed in me.”
-Owen Smith, running back
“Coach white was always making people laugh. He related to all of us so it was natural and easy to play under him and follow his lead. Instantly won over our hearts and installed discipline. Always led by example. Lotta Love and respect for Coach White and the battle he fought.”
-William Saucedo, running back
One of Hegarty’s favorite memories of White gave great insight into the kind of person he was. While battling cancer, White worried for Hegarty; who had been battling a minor illness for a few months and was also overwhelmed by the short staff after the COVID-19 lockdown.
“He asked to see me on the field before the game,” said Hegarty. “ He walks me over to the sideline and he gives me a bouquet. He said ‘ Mary, I know you’ve had a rough year. I just want you to know that I appreciate you.’ The guy is battling cancer and he thinks to do a kindness like that, but that’s who he was the entire time. He was an extremely special guy. Irreplaceable. We’re going to do our best to live up to his legacy.”
“He never let a challenge be an excuse and he never complained about it. He just didn’t have it in him.” Hegarty closed out, “His personality was infectious. Big beaming smile. Everywhere he went you could see people respond to him. Just a whole other level as a man and as a person. I’m grateful that his wife shared him with us.”
White’s son, Anthony White II, was the honorary team captain prior to the team’s 56-48 Southern California Bowl victory over College of the Desert.
“He loved coaching, but he loved nothing more than his wife and two kids,” said Hegarty.
White’s survived by his wife San, son Anthony White II, and daughter Olivia Grace.