After 38 years, Mike White is finally going to have a homecoming football game in Augusta.
“This is kind of uncharted waters for me, going home and playing around a home crowd like this,” said White, the Albany State head coach and former Westside football player. “I’ve been coaching awhile and this will be a first.”
White, 55, will be trying to earn his 99th head coaching victory on Saturday at Laney Stadium against Benedict College in the Augusta City Classic. The longtime Rams coach, however, is more concerned about winning another Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship than hitting the 100-win mark in the final two regular season games.
“I don’t keep up with that as much as people who try to remind me,” White said of the milestone he first heard about last season when the band director brought it to his attention during a pregame coin toss. “That’s pretty big. I’m very proud of that and proud of this staff and team for getting us there. I know I just need to win these last two games for us to stay on track for the conference title. So that’s the plan.”
Albany State football has been pretty much White’s plan ever since he graduated from Westside in 1975. He played defensive tackle four seasons for the Rams, three times earning All-SIAC honors including being named conference player of the year as a senior in 1978.
He was taken in the fourth round of the 1979 NFL Draft by Cincinnati and played two seasons each with the Bengals and Seattle Seahawks.
Once his playing career was over, White was drawn right back to Albany, Ga.
“When I left Seattle I went back to Augusta for five or six months and I’ve been (in Albany) ever since,” said White, who joined the Rams coaching staff as a defensive line coach in 1984. He spent 16 seasons as an assistant before taking the head coaching reins in 2000.
“This is my 29th season coaching,” he said of the road that’s finally brought him back to his hometown. “It is exciting for me to come home. I cannot deny that.”
Winning was not a big part of football the last time White played in Augusta. When he graduated from high school at Westside, the Patriots were still months away from the school’s first winning season the following fall.
His last season under coach Buddy Braddy in 1974 was 2-7-1. The year before the Patriots went 1-9.
But winning has become routine at Albany State.
The Rams won eight SIAC titles during White’s years as an assistant, and they’ve added five more under his leadership since 2003. Albany State has been to the postseason nine consecutive years, including eight consecutive appearances in the Division II playoffs.
The high water mark remains 2010, when White’s Rams went 10-0 in the regular season, finished 11-1 overall after falling in the Division II quarterfinals and claimed the school’s first black college football national championship.
“It ranks up there,” he said of everything he’s achieved in his career. “We had a good team and a good group of guys who paid their dues to get that. It was a great year for us as a program and bringing the first (national title) to Albany State. It was huge for me – playing at Albany State, being assistant at Albany State and head coach at Albany State.”
For all he’s accomplished, White remains rooted in Albany, where he was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame in 2004.
“I’ve had some opportunities to move,” he said. “But I just didn’t want to leave because of money and just didn’t want to leave because I had a good team and situation here. I don’t know if that day will ever come, but if it doesn’t I’ve had some great years here at Albany State.”
This season, the Rams started 1-3 before winning four consecutive games to remain in the hunt to qualify for the SIAC Championship. If they beat Benedict on Saturday, it will come down to an East showdown with Fort Valley State the next week.
White said calls and e-mails from old friends and relatives have been pouring in all week as the Augusta City Classic approaches. His father, James, still lives in Augusta but isn’t likely to attend Saturday’s game because of back problems. One of his sisters, Donna Anderson, lives in the Highland Park area.
“I’m sure we’ll have a large showing there Saturday,” White said. “I’ve always wanted to play in this game because it would be a good way to get back to Augusta. I’m glad it happened. At the same time we’ve got a really important game to focus on and I’ve got to try to keep it business as usual for us.”