Anthony White burst through the turnstiles at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport sporting a blue tank top with the word “SOCCER” embroidered at the front, matching shorts, adidas cleats, a soccer ball in hand, and a smile that seemed to warm up the -4 degrees Celsius Friday afternoon. He was dressed for his photoshoot and interview with The Varsity. 

“I guess we can’t take photos outside,” he shrugged. The winter weather and snow made the six-feet-two-inches tall dude in full soccer gear stand out like a sore thumb as we walked from Goldring over to the Varsity Bubble. 

The ball seemed glued to White’s foot as he dribbled around in the Varsity Bubble. VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY

Before he was modelling the blue tank top, White made headlines last December, when he was drafted by Vancouver FC (VFC) as the first overall selection of the 2023 CPL-U SPORTS draft. He’s the first player in Varsity Blues history to be picked first overall in the CPL-U SPORTS draft, and the second Blue to ever be drafted to the Canadian Premiere League (CPL). White had a Zoom meeting with VFC before the draft. He learned after the draft that, as soon as the Zoom meeting ended, one of VFC’s scouts said to the team, “We’re going to take him.”

While the draft is monumental both for White and the Blues community, it’s the culmination of 19 years of hard work for White. Throughout the years of 2016–2019, the defender was invited to two training sessions with GNK Dinamo Zagreb, a training session with FC Nürnberg in Germany and with HNK Šibenik, a trial with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and he captained the BC Provincial soccer team. 

On our way to the Varsity Bubble, White bumped into another Varsity Blue and dapped him up. 

“Is that one of your boys?” I asked. 

“Yeah that’s Russel, the one I hit the long balls to,” White reminisced with a smile on his face. 

White and Russell Stewart — a defender for the Blues soccer team — go way back. Before they tangoed together on the Varsity Stadium pitch, the two met by sheer coincidence in Madrid, Spain in 2019, as they were two of the 16 Canadians selected for Generation Adidas — a professional overseas soccer development program, and yet another one of White’s impressive resume accolades. 

The event featured high-level coaches, players, and scouts. The kids were treated to the things of any young soccer player’s wildest fantasy — free meals, nutritionists, psychologists, and pristine grass fields. “Just walking through the facilities we saw famous players like Roberto Carlos… It was a great experience,” White said. 

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this for” White chuckled. VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY

After taking the photos, we walked back to The Varsity’s office, White said he got a text from one of the coaches at VFC, with great excitement. It’s kind of crazy to see how much the defender’s life has changed in the past month, which is even more dramatic when you think about where he came from. 

While watching White’s YouTube highlight tape from when he was a teenager playing for Coquitlam FC, two things became blatantly clear: firstly, he was incredibly calm with the ball at his feet. Secondly, the kid could pass, and he knew it too. When White kicks the ball, it’s almost as if the ball turns into a homing missile, with the sole destination of landing right on a striker or winger’s foot. He does this effortlessly, with no elaborate setup and no time wasted.  

“Anthony is probably one of the most composed guys I’ve met on the pitch.” Stewart said in an interview with The Varsity. “He could have the biggest striker running at him… and ping a 40 or 50 yard long ball to me on the right wing, regardless of who’s pressuring him.” The chemistry between the two is palpable, and it’s not hard to see the impact that White has had on this Varsity Blues soccer team. The head coach of the team, Ilya Orlov, had similar praises for White. 

“Very rarely, if ever, have I seen him get exposed from behind,” Orlov said, lauding the defender’s positioning on and off the ball. “There’s no real secret of being a great football player; you just have to understand how the team plays, make good decisions, and then try to execute the decisions. He does those [things] above the U SPORTS standard, that’s why he got the chance.” 

White didn’t become the great football player that Orlov describes all by himself; he also had a great environment for his development, and it all tracks back to when he started playing soccer at four years old in Port Moody, BC.

As we sat in the news room at The Varsity’s office, White — now properly dressed for the day in pants, a long sleeve ‘iron paradise’ shirt, and a jacket — told me about his childhood. His parents, Chris White and Sandra Brunac-White, were both inundated in the world of sports. “My dad played from youth and got the opportunity to go on trial with Celtic [FC],” White explained. His dad played as a midfielder, much like Anthony did in his early years. His mom was a multi-sport athlete, playing tennis and soccer. White told me that both of his parents introduced him to the game.

White grins at the camera in The Varsity’s photo room. VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY

If you think that his two parents being athletes is enough, there’s more. His brother, Nik White, is the captain of Harvard University’s men’s soccer team. The two played together on the League One team TSS Rovers, and since they were both centre-backs, they practically shared a patch of grass on the pitch. 

“He was one of the leaders… someone everyone respected and appreciated.” Anthony also lamented about his brother’s rigorous training routine: “The days when I’m not feeling the gym he’s like ‘no, we’re going’… I just try to follow that as much as possible and it’s really helped me get to where I am today.”

The Varsity Blues’ website has a section where their players answer a bunch of quirky questions so fans can get to know them. Anthony’s answer to the question “Most influential person to you” was “Brother.” It’s obvious he holds his brother in very high regard, and judging from their Instagram posts, the brotherly love is mutual. 

The second-year kinesiology major will be heading back to Vancouver soon, and he hopes to take his studies with him. He’s currently petitioning the university to get online approval to write his midterms and finals in Vancouver while he trains with the club. 

White is going on trial with VFC in February, with hopes to sign a developmental contract — which would allow him to play with VFC from February 10 to August 15 — and then return to the Blues for the U SPORTS season. His performance in the first few practices in Vancouver will determine whether he gets the developmental contract or not. 

White has got quite the game face. VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY

With a sudden realisation I asked White, “A lot of people think that once you get drafted, to any league, that’s it, you’re set… but it’s not like that. You have to keep fighting don’t you?”

White looked out the window of The Varsity’s office, took a deep breath, and said, “It truly is just the beginning, and I know that, and that’s why I’m working hard still.” 

While getting drafted is first and foremost a celebration, it also marks the beginning of a continuous journey of having to prove yourself, day in and day out. What’s impressive, however, is White’s steely resolve in spite of the challenges ahead of him. This “composure” that White has — which his teammate Stewart commended and his coach Orlov praised — doesn’t leave him when he steps off of the pitch. It clings on to him, it’s a part of him. Whether there’s a striker running towards him at the speed of light, or his lofty career goals towering over him, White doesn’t freeze; he assesses the situation and he delivers.

While the trajectory of White’s soccer career is up in the air for now, his composure will keep him grounded. When this composure is coupled with the support of his wonderful family, the Varsity Blues community, and his friends, it’s hard to imagine a future for White that isn’t incredibly bright.