When Kevin White walked off the football field for the last time as a high school player at Paramus Catholic, he decided what course his life would take right then and there.
Ultimately, Kinnelon High School would end up the big winner.
The exact date was Dec. 13, 1992. How do we know this? White recalls the date right off the top of his head, which signifies its importance in his life. That is the day his team lost one of the epic state championship games in New Jersey high school history.
But instead of being turned off by the utter disappointment, he was turned onto what scholastic football brings: the thrill of competing, the preparation leading up to the big game, the joy of camaraderie with teammates and coaches.
“I walked off the field that day,” White said, “and I knew I wanted to be a part of it forever. I loved the competition, football, being around the sport … the relationships. I couldn’t imagine living without it.”
He still cannot. White, in his seventh season at Kinnelon, is the Daily Record’s 2012 Coach of the Year. The Colts stunning run to the North 1 Group II championship is complete. The balls and pads are packed away for 2013. And White? He’s beside himself. He teaches English at Kinnelon. When he goes home, he might head to the gym. After that … well, he doesn’t know what to do.
White is so used to being engrossed in preparing for the Colts next opponent that he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Kinnelon AD Scott Rosenberg knows.
“You can find him supporting all the teams in the school,” Rosenberg said. “This year he found time in his busy schedule to drive from Bergen County to Roxbury High School to support our volleyball team in the county semifinals. He regularly sends his teams from practice to support other teams. He is one of those guys who just gets it. He is cerebral and calculated. He is even-keeled and inspirational at the same time.”
White used all of those traits to guide the Colts to one of the most unexpected playoff runs in Morris County history. The Colts had a good, not great, regular season. But then they went on a hot streak for the ages by winning the first three playoff games in school history, culminating with a 26-14 win over New Milford for the title at Kean on Dec. 8.
How did White and Kinnelon do it?
“We had a rule: No one is allowed to get hurt,” White said with a laugh. “We didn’t have any key injuries. We lost one player for maybe two games, that was it. Other years, we’d miss 2-3-4 guys at a time and at a small school like ours, that is as many as eight players if you count both ways.”
In addition, White said he was blessed with a solid group of athletes and coaches (Jim Dransfield, Mike Buesser, Eric DiColo, Larry Simms, Rich Wroblewski, Leigh Denman, Kevin Duffy). The mix added up to a state title.
“We were 5-5 last year and we coached the same way,” he said. “This year, we were healthy and physically more mature than a lot of teams. So much is made about coaching, but I’ve always felt that coaching is not about the Xs and Os, but it’s all about the Johnnys and the Joes. We had a great senior class that really meshed together.”
White is used to being around winners on the football field. He went to Delaware to play football but injured his back and was forced to give up the sport. He returned to Bergen County as a freshman coach at Paramus Catholic before going to perennial powerhouse St. Joseph-Montvale from 2000-2005, when he learned how to coach from Tony Karcich, one of the most successful coaches in all of New Jersey.
“St. Joe’s was a great place, and I could not have learned any more,” White said. “I watched him carefully, everything he said and did, and I filed it away for the future.”
That future came at Kinnelon, which is riding high after its championship.
“It’s great, people are so excited and enthusiastic over what we accomplished,” White said. “People genuinely feel good. It’s a nice feeling.”
Said Rosenberg, “One of the things that I appreciate the most about him is that he believes in helping his athletes grow as students, athletes and people. He supports community service events and encourages his athletes to take part in them. When Kevin was hired, he did not guarantee us championships but did promise that his teams would work like champions, think like champions and behave like champions.”
The Colts can work, think and behave like champions now because they are champions. And for that, they can thank Kevin White.