(CBS/Rahshaun Haylock) — Its 2 a.m. The phone rings. Anthony White answers. On the other side of the conversation is a parent of one of White’s players. She tells White her son did not complete his duties of taking out the trash earlier in the evening. White: “I’ll call his cellphone.” The player obliges once receiving the phone call from his coach.
Why is certainly the question that comes to mind. Why is this coach receiving calls in the middle of the night? Why is this coach making calls in the middle of the night?
“I’m a 24-hour coach,” says White. Similar to your local convenience store, White’s time and phone are always open for none other than his players and their parents.
Anthony White is in his first season as the head coach of the Buena Park football team. If you know anything about that program recently, you’ll know a 24-hour coach is exactly what was needed. If there was as much as an extra second in a day, the Coyotes would need that and more to revive their struggling program.
Before White took over, the Coyotes were 9-50 in the last six seasons and hadn’t won a league game on the field since 2002.
None of that mattered to White. The past was just that, the past. As was evident in his first message to his new team, “I didn’t care what happened in the past,” says White as he gazed into the eyes of players who had no idea what it took to be a winner on the field or in life for some, “they’re new to me, just like I’m new to them.”
Next was structuring the family. Easier said than done for most players that didn’t have much of a real family, let alone a football one. The bulk of the players come from broken homes, with one or no parents in the household. There are players that stay with foster families, and there are still some that live with families of teammates.
Exactly what the players needed was another coach coming into the program preaching how a team is a family, and playing not just for yourself but for the guy next to you. Heard it all before. But somehow this message, this time, was different.
Coach White has actually been where they are. His staff has actually been there before. White grew up in a single family home. Just a mom, no father in sight. He starred on a rather unimpressive team at Rosemead High School. White was the best player on his team. He made all the plays, but yet after the games he went home, alone, without any money to be able to grab pizza with teammates after the game. Not wanting any member on his team to go through the same thing, Buena Park team meals are all free. Everyone partakes, as a family.
After a stellar high school career, White took his talents to the Univesity of Utah. It was there he received a phone call after playing in a nationally televised game. On the other end was a voice of a man having watched White on TV, claiming to be his father. White was 22 at the time.
While there is still no relationship for White, 29, and his father, for Buena Park football players, White has become a father, brother, counselor, and coach. “We’ve been in there shoes before,” says White. The players understand White comes from a similar background and for that reason it helped them to buy in.
But that wasn’t all. Talk is cheap. The new coaching staff had to do. “We let these kids see first hand how hard we work” says White of he and his staff. “If we ask them for 100% [effort] we have to make sure they see us giving 110%”
On the field, changes had to be made. It’s one thing to expect to win, its another to be shown the way. “We raised expectations,” says White. “It’s not OK to make a mistake.” Just like anything in life there are consequences for mistakes that you make. White holds individual challenges and competitions during practice. The loser is subjected to a conditioning-related activity.
As a staff, fundamentals and proper techniques are stressed. Performance is monitored not only on the football field, but at home, and in the classroom.
“You have to break everything down” says White as part of the blueprint for changing the culture and teaching players how to win. A part of that was explaining to his new players that you can’t always control rather you win or lose but there are things you can control to help get you down the right path.
“As players, there are two things that you can control: your attitude and your effort” White explains, “as coaches [we] control the discipline and conditioning.”
So far, it’s working. The Coyotes are off to a 6-0 start. Last week the beat Sunny Hills for their first league win since 2002.
Tonight, is the toughest test yet for the Coyotes, when they host La Habra. The same La Habra that hasn’t lost a league game since 2006. The same La Habra that is on the heels of three consecutive CIF titles. The same La Habra that just 15 days ago hosted a dinner for the Buena Park football team and their families.
White says the dinner was put on by a Buena Park alum, who is now the vice president of the La Habra booster club and who’s sons both play for the Highlanders.
Tonight, both teams will put the spaghetti and garlic bread aside as they battle to take over the top spot in the Freeway League. It’s a game that the Coyotes are a huge underdog. Calpreps has La Habra as a 31-point favorite. Of course, to White, none of that matters. White has a tremendous amount of respect for the Highlanders and head coach Frank Mazzotta. White knows he wants his program to get to that level, but says “we’re not backing down.”
There’s something different going on at Buena Park. In the introduction video, the first pictures you see of students are of them studying. There is a buzz around the program. A belief in self and one another. Very much like, well, a family.