On the field and off, Russell White has always kept his eyes on the goal.
In his first varsity football game as a sophomore at Crespi High in Encino, he rushed for 150 yards on four carries, and he said he had two 60-yard touchdown runs called back.
As a junior at Cal in 1991, he was an all-American running back who helped lead the Bears to a 10-2 season, a No. 8 national ranking and a 37-13 walloping of Clemson in the 1992 Citrus Bowl.
Following the 1991 season, White surprised many by turning down a chance to go early in the NFL draft, where he was projected to be a first-round pick and receive a big contract. Getting a degree from Cal, he said, was more important.
Today, he's applying the lessons he learned in college to his new job as commissioner of the Oakland Athletic League, which oversees high school sports in the Oakland Unified School District.
"The Oakland athletic community, they definitely selected the right person for that job, knowing his personality and not only his commitment to excellence but his commitment to giving back," said Brian Treggs, a star receiver and former teammate of White's at Cal.
White, 41, doesn't express regret at saying no to the NFL after his junior year in Berkeley.
"When I decided to come back to Cal after my junior year, it wasn't for football; it was to get my degree," White said. "That (draft) money was right, ... but you know, I had to walk away."
He had something
"For those that said I couldn't do it, I used that gas to fuel my flame," White said.
White's academic struggles were accentuated by dyslexia, a reading disability in which the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols.
"When I got tested at Cal my sophomore year, there was nothing to compare it to," said White, who was tested again his junior year. "Now I had a base and I had something to compare it to. That's when they wrote it up.
"It's something that you live with and you learn to deal with. You know, you see letters backwards. Lowercase b's look like d's, d's look like b's," continued White, who said there are techniques on how to deal with dyslexia. "Slow down, read what you write, read it twice, read it three times, and then send it out."
White had a storied high school career before choosing Cal over Washington and many other colleges. At Crespi, he set the state's career rushing record (since broken) and scored 94 touchdowns.
At Cal, White scored a touchdown the first time he touched the ball at Memorial Stadium in a game (a 99-yard kickoff return against defending national champion Miami) and eventually set the school career rushing record.
"I've never been on the same team with a better overall athlete," said Mike Pawlawski, Cal's starting quarterback in the 1990-91 seasons. "I tell people all the time if Russell White wanted to play quarterback, I would be a backup. He was that good at whatever he did athletically."
White rushed for 1,069 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior in the 1992 season and graduated with a social welfare degree. He was selected in the third round of the 1993 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams and played sparingly in his rookie year.
He also had stops in Green Bay, London in the World League of American Football, and the 49ers training camp before being waived in 1996 and retiring.
"After 26 (years old), it was over, never to be done again that way. It was definitely a turn. That was probably the biggest one," White said.
His life journey has taken him many places since then. He was a counselor at the Lincoln Child Center in Oakland, then later worked for the Alameda County Probation Department and the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
In 2001, White went back to Crespi as a running backs coach. Two years later he was hired as dean of students and head football coach at tiny Desert Chapel High in Palm Springs. He later was the athletic director.
After a short stay as an athletic coordinator and assistant football coach at Flagstaff High in Arizona, White moved his family back to California, and was an assistant coach in 2008 at Castlemont under James Barnes.
"It brought a lot of experience to our coaching staff," Barnes said. "He didn't have a superstar attitude. He was down to earth."
White became the head coach two years later when Barnes left for Arroyo High. He coached the Knights for two seasons before throwing his helmet in the ring for the Oakland Athletic League commissioner's position. He was hired in early July
"I was so impressed, both with the experience and more than anything a clarity about what the kids need and how to get there," Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith said. "He talked about being a student-athlete. I think playing at Cal was a big influence on that."