The one and only time Calvin White has been to Husky Stadium, he was in uniform for a football game.
No, not shoulder pads and a helmet. It was 2009 and White, then a sophomore at Marysville Pilchuck High School, was a saxophone player in the Tomahawks marching band. He was on the field that day with hundreds of other high school musicians from around the state for the University of Washington’s annual Band Day, with both pregame and halftime performances.
Back then, the idea of White ever playing football on that same field would have seemed far-fetched indeed.
“I don’t think I ever would’ve believed that I’d be playing against the UW someday,” he admitted this week.
But on Saturday, White will be at Husky Stadium for Idaho’s 2 p.m. game against Washington. A 2012 MP graduate who has grown to 6-feet-5 inches and 295 pounds, he is a starting tackle on the Vandals’ offensive line.
After redshirting as a true freshman and then playing sparingly the next two years, White became a full-time starter midway through last season. He has also added close to 70 pounds from his senior season with the Tomahawks.
“When I came here they told me to eat a lot,” he said by telephone from Moscow, Idaho. “They had me eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. I used to go to meetings and they’d have me eat about four peanut butter sandwiches at the meeting. I got sick of them pretty fast, but I guess they did the job.”
White’s slender frame in high school was a big reason major-college recruiters barely gave him a glance. Knowing he needed to be proactive if he hoped to continue playing, White and his family took a road trip after his senior season with stops in the football offices at Eastern Washington, Washington State and Idaho.
“I always thought I was good enough (to play NCAA Division I football),” he said, “but nobody would even give me the chance to walk on until I forced the coach at Idaho (then-Vandals head coach Rob Akey) to watch my film. I knocked on his door and said, ‘Hey, we’re visiting, would you look at my film?’”
After watching about 20 minutes of film, Akey agreed to let White walk on. Still, he had a long way to go before he could hope to see meaningful playing time.
“I didn’t know how realistic it was, but I thought I had a chance,” he said. “I thought if someone would give me a chance I could do it, and luckily somebody did.”
These days, he added, “I’m a lot bigger, a lot stronger, and I know what I’m doing. I’ve been taught by a lot of good coaches in my five years here.”
Kris Cinkovich, Idaho’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach, says White stands out for both his work ethic and intelligence. Through diligence at the training table and in the weight room, “he’s built himself up to give himself a chance to play and to play well for us, which is what we expect of him,” Cinkovich said.
In most major-college sports, and particularly in football, scholarship athletes are generally recruited out of high school. But occasionally a walk-on shows up, and through determination and perseverance ends up becoming a top player.
So it was for White, who earned a scholarship after his second season at Idaho.
“I have a lot of respect for people in his situation,” Cinkovich said. “Nobody was looking for him, nobody probably wanted him, but he kept working hard.
“Football is important to him. He enjoys the preparation, the competition and the work involved, and to see him come out the other side as a player who’s good enough for us to win games, that’s a good thing.”
White will graduate in the coming months with degrees in accounting and finance, and he then expects to take a year off to make money for law school. His goal is to gain admittance to the UW law school which is, he said, “my top choice.”
But in the meantime there is a football game this weekend. It is one “that I’ve been looking forward to since I heard we were going to play Washington three or four years ago,” White said.
“Honestly, Washington was my favorite college team growing up. The one game I went to (as a Marysville Pilchuck sax player), it was against Idaho and I was rooting for the Huskies. So it’s kind of crazy that I get to come back and play against the team that I liked watching when I was growing up. But I’m really excited about it.”
Eighth-ranked Washington is a heavy favorite against Idaho, of course, and White acknowledges that the Vandals face “a huge challenge.”
“Obviously they’re really good,” he said. “They have a lot of talent, especially on the defensive line. So for us (on the offensive line) it’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’re up to it and we’ll see what happens.”