Change is nothing new for Kyle White

White’s versatility pushes him to new heights this year

The sweat dripped off Kyle White’s forehead as he plugged through the exercises.

He started with five sets of box jumps, switched to jump ropes and followed it with running hurdles. Then back to the box jumps, but a little higher this time. He went through the routine once, then started it all over again.

Jumping workouts are taxing, both for the legs and the mind. But White, a junior running back-turned-cornerback for Oregon State, had a good coach: his mom, Penny.

This was no OSU football practice, by the way. It was a typical day from high school back in Montgomery, Ala.

White always had well-rounded workouts thanks to his mom, who wouldn’t just coach him through the sets but do them right along with him.

Penny Lucas-White played volleyball for LSU as well as the USA National Team and now is the head volleyball coach at Alabama State. The rest of White’s family is athletic, too: his father, Mark, ran track at OSU. His siblings, Keefe and Kayla, are in high school and expect to play collegiate football and volleyball, respectively.

White himself is as versatile as they come, playing volleyball in high school as well as football, basketball and soccer. 

Now he’s is more than half the country away from his family in Alabama, but the athletic background he got from them is the reason he’s playing for a Pac-12 school.

“It was a family bonding time,” he said of their athletic endeavors. “My brother and sister are just as athletic if not more so than I am. Our bonding time is our active time.”

The 6-foot, 207-pounder transferred from Orange Coast College in California last year as one of the top-five running backs in the junior college ranks. He went through spring practices with the Beavers, leading the team with 53 rushing yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Just like his parents both competed at the Division-I level, Kyle had finally joined their ranks.

“I felt accomplished more than anything, but at the same time I felt like my job wasn’t done,” White said of his emotions after transferring to OSU. “I’m happy to make it at this level, but I feel like there’s so much more I want to contribute to my team so there’s something I can be proud of. My mom did great things at LSU, my dad did great things being an individual runner at Oregon State. I feel like I’ve done good, but I haven’t done great yet.”

White hasn’t gotten closure on that aim yet, either. In fall camp, he had to battle for a spot on the depth chart with other running backs like Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and Tim Cook. Ultimately, White ended up being the odd one out. So, the coaching staff approached him about a position switch to cornerback two weeks before the season opener on Sept. 1.

“The absolute first words out of his mouth were simple and clean: ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever is best for the team,’” said head coach Gary Andersen, who added that White was already beginning to get extra practice in with cornerbacks coach Cory Hall the day after making the switch.

“He was great about it,” added running backs coach Telly Lockette, who first brought the idea to White. “He said, ‘Coach, yeah I’ll go.’ And now, he’s on special teams making plays. That’s a credit to him, how athletic he is.”

The fact that White is able to make a position switch and still be a contributor, at least on special teams, points to the training he got from high school and even earlier. After all, he played basketball all four years at Macon East Academy, volleyball for three years, soccer for one year and football just one. He also ran track at OCC and he says competing in the various sports helps his overall athleticism on the football field today.

Running track helped White improve his quickness, acceleration and a longer stride in the open field. Basketball helped his hand-eye coordination and volleyball helped his vertical jump, due in large part to the jumping sessions with his mother.

“Each sport has a little something that can help in football,” White said.

The mother-son combo started with mini box jumps, but as the years went on, White’s vertical leap improved so much he had to stack boxes on top of each other to use because the normal boxes weren’t high enough for him. He says his personal best is 55 inches for a flat-footed jump and 60 inches with a one-step gather. For reference, the Guinness World Record for flat-footed box jump is 64 inches.

Incidentally, Penny’s coach on the USA National Volleyball Team was recently retired OSU volleyball coach Taras Liskevych. White says Liskevych reached out to him about practicing with the team, but White declined.

“He asked me,” White said. “I didn’t have the time. (Football) is my main priority.”

That’s still the case, even though White went through a position switch he didn’t expect and has yet to crack the depth chart at cornerback. It isn’t exactly what he had in mind for his playing time in Corvallis, but he’s not giving up.

“I accept my role, but I will work harder to do better,” White said. “I understand my role right now and I will work to do my best at the role I play. If I can help my team as much as possible, that’s what I’ll do.”

“He has a great attitude,” added coach Andersen. “It’s been like that since the first day he walked in here. He’s always in the weight room, I see him move through there and the way he pushes himself. He’s very coachable.”

Though things have changed a lot of White, he’s used to adjustments. For a guy who has played five different sports since high school, maybe it would be abnormal for him to settle down in the same position in the same sport. He’s playing on a different side of the ball now, but the work ethic and desire is still there.

“Every position switch is hard, but I’m trying to make the most of it,” he said. “I’m trying to get into the playbook as much as possible, trying to be with the coaches as much possible. I’m trying to adapt and learn to help the team.”

“He’s been doing a pretty good job out there making that quick transition,” added senior wide receiver Victor Bolden. “I’m proud to see he’s picking it up.”

Time and time again, White will mention his utmost goal is to help the team. No matter the position, no matter the time he spends on the field, he always relates it back to what the team’s perspective is. That came to a head in the Idaho State game when White was on the punt return team and Bolden lined up to receive the kick. White missed a block, allowing Bolden to get hit and fumble the ball. Luckily, White was right there to scoop it up to avoid the turnover. The next play, Bolden took a handoff and sped 92 yards for a touchdown.

“I gave Vic an apology, and then I gave Vic a pat on the back because he did great,” White said. “I just love my teammates because I picked up when he was down, and he picked up when I was down, and we helped the team.”

White still has all of this season and next year to continue carving his role at OSU. It’s hard to say where he’ll make the biggest impact. He’s still got a ways to go learning the playbook and getting the technique of playing cornerback down, but the athleticism and work ethic are there. Maybe most important of all is his desire to turn last year’s 2-10 team into a program moving into the next level.

“He’s all about his team,” said running back Kieran Yancy. “I appreciate that because he’s looking out for me and the rest of the team. He really cares about winning. That’s what this program is starting to be about.”

“What’s helped me stay confident is knowing where I’m at,” White added. “The coaches we have are amazing. My parents are always behind me and so are my brother and sister. My teammates, friends, everybody. I have so many positive people around me, I don’t even understand it. There’s kids that come up to me like, ‘You’re awesome, Kyle.’ I’ll say, ‘I don’t even know who you are, but you’re an amazing kid.’ Just people everywhere — I’m happy to play this sport and I don’t care the position, I just want to work as hard as possible and help my team.”