By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Accustomed to hard work and success on the soccer field, Keenan Whyte was jolted when his hopes were dashed to play major college soccer out of Montgomery High.
Disappointment at tryouts became determination to make that journey through the Santa Rosa Junior College program.
A dream delayed is now a goal achieved as Whyte moves into the major college soccer ranks. And the SRJC All-American is helping make history, joining the rebirth of University of the Pacific men’s soccer at the NCAA Division I level.
“I’m living my dream of playing Division I soccer,” Whyte said. “And it kind of intrigued me that it’s a new program. I’m excited to be on the first team to start the program back up.”
The midfielder is counted on to help anchor the Pacific squad. Whyte was among the first players Pacific coach Ryan Jorden signed in building a team for the inaugural 2014 season.
“Keenan comes to Pacific having led his Santa Rosa JC team to back-to-back Big 8 Conference titles. He is quick and powerful with a great tactical sense coming from the center of the midfield,” Jorden said. “We are pleased to have a player of his quality that will provide good leadership to the soccer program.”
What the Tigers are getting is a skilled, steady player who finds ways to improve every season.
The two-time All-Empire pick at Montgomery High helped lead the Vikings to North Coast Section titles his junior and senior years.
Whyte followed with a pair of National Soccer Coaches Association of America Junior College Men’s Division III All-America selections. Whyte is the first SRJC player to receive the national honor twice. Last season, he also was Big 8 Conference Player of the Year.
“He just shows up and takes care of business. That’s his greatest attribute,” said SRJC coach Marty Kinahan.
Such a work ethic includes training hard and bolstering his strength and fitness.
Yet it was not enough to earn Whyte a spot at Chico State, where he had been recruited out of Montgomery.
“It kind of sucked. But in reality, it made me better,” Whyte said. “I can go out and handle anything I need to handle in life now.”
On the Santa Rosa squad, Whyte improved in all aspects of the game.
“I just kept focused on what I wanted to do. My goal was to continue playing soccer somewhere else,” Whyte said. “It’s a sport that I love.”
Strong across the field, Whyte played a key role in stabilizing Santa Rosa’s attack and energizing the Bear Cubs this past season.
A skilled scorer, Whtye anchored Santa Rosa’s attack from the midfield with ball control and sure passes, as well as strong finishes.
“He grinds,” Kinahan said. “He scored, controlled the middle, he was just super, super consistent.”
After an uneven start to the season, Santa Rosa found its stride to capture the Big 8 Conference title. Then the Bear Cubs won two contests in the California Community College Athletic Association tournament, the season ending with a quarterfinal loss and a 12-4-6 record. In the final rankings, Santa Rosa was seventh in the state and third in Northern California.
“I kind of feel like I’m the engine on the team,” Whyte said. “It’s definitely all about teamwork. Putting my teammates before myself is something I definitely learned. Being a selfish player doesn’t get you too far.”
Major colleges started showing interest in Whyte after his first All-American campaign for Santa Rosa. By the end of his second season, the top choices were the University of Massachusetts, Cal Poly, Cal State Los Angeles and Dominican, in addition to Pacific.
The amount of financial aid and a strong academic program for the history major drew Whyte to Pacific.
Doing well in the classroom makes for a strong recruit.
“Coaches are looking for a package. It’s an investment by the coach,” Kinahan said. “It’s really easy to move on when players perform in the classroom.”
On the field, Whyte is preparing to prove himself all over and gain a starting spot with the Tigers.
“Division one soccer is going to be physical. The speed of play’s going to be huge,” Whyte said. “I’m going to be fine. I’m a lot more confident on the ball now.”
During summer, Whyte trains with the Santa Rosa team and hits the weight room regularly, in addition to following Pacific’s sprinting and conditioning regimen. The first challenge in front of the Pacific coaches comes at a 10-day camp in August.
“It’s almost like a clean slate. We have to prove that we are fit,” Whyte said.
Hard work and a passion for soccer have taken Whyte to the heights of high school and junior college soccer, preparing him for the biggest jump yet.
“I’m ready, but everyday I’m trying to get better,” he said. “I’m very excited to play.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.