If you got a copy of his eighth-grade yearbook, Kevin Reihner is sure you’ll read that he had the most lofty of career goals.
“I think it would say future neurosurgeon from Wyoming (Seminary),” he laughed.
Not that it wasn’t attainable, of course. It’s just that life takes you down different roads, teaches you different things, leads you sometimes away from where your skills can take you and toward where your heart wants to be.
For two former area high school football standouts, life had big plans that ultimately led to what they consider an important calling. Reihner and Nyeem Wartman-White, All-Region standouts in high school who went on to successful careers in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, both received big breaks in coaching last offseason. Reihner joined former Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne’s staff at Old Dominion, providing him his first job as the head offensive-line coach at the major-college level. Meanwhile, Wartman-White landed the defensive line coaching position at Football Championship Subdivision power New Hampshire.
Injuries dashed NFL dreams for Wartman-White, a star linebacker at Valley View and Penn State. But coaching has always been in the back of his mind as a way to stay close to the game and influence young players the way his coaches — head coach George Howanitz and then-assistant Joe Zabielski at Valley View, and defensive coordinator Brent Pry and former linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden at Penn State — helped mold him.
“For me, it was obvious what I wanted to do,” Wartman-White said. “I wanted to have the ability to possibly affect someone else’s life. Because for me, I know I might’ve had some anger issues or whatever, and they helped to massage it. They helped me turn my weaknesses into strengths. I had the fortunate ability to just learn from all of my coaches.”
It may have taken Reihner a bit longer.
After his All-Region career as an offensive lineman at Scranton Prep, Reihner enrolled at Stanford with as many ideas as options. He went out west to pursue medicine. For a while, just like most students who watched the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” around that time, he decided to pursue a career in finance. As a junior at Stanford, he even scored a product management internship at the Gordon Biersch Brewery in San Jose.
As far as coaching football went, he always lived by some advice he got from Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren: Don’t get into coaching until you have to. When the internships and the best-laid plans started to feel like work, Reihner figured he reached the “have to” point. After playing at Penn State as a graduate transfer in 2015, Reihner held grad assistant posts at Fordham and Wake Forest, then got his first full-time FCS gig as Delaware’s tight ends coach in 2018.
He served as Matt Limegrover’s assistant offensive line coach at Penn State last season, which set him up to join Rahne’s largely Nittany Lions-influenced staff in 2020.
“We were just 22 to 27, there at Fordham, staying up all hours of the night, piecing together money to take the subway down to New York City, just absolutely loving what we were doing and who we were doing it with,” Reihner said. “That’s kind of when I knew, that’s what I wanted.”
Wartman-White’s Penn State roots got him on New Hampshire’s radar, as well. Former Nittany Lions defensive GA Andrew Jackson, who spent two years with Wartman-White when he worked on Joe Moorhead’s staff as GA at Mississippi State in 2018 and 2019, recommended him for the post.
It’s Wartman-White’s first full-time job since suffering knee injuries in consecutive years against Temple that effectively ended his playing career. But they hardly dented his desire to stay in football.
With Mississippi State, he helped coach defensive linemen and even got a chance to cut his teeth on the recruiting trail, scouring some of the hotly contested camps in the South for talent. He also knows what it’s like to watch a program crumble around lofty expectations and off-the-field worries, after Moorhead’s firing late last year.
Just four years out of Happy Valley, Wartman-White has bought in on the positive effects of the profession on kids, and he hopes his start at New Hampshire will provide him with the boost to make being that kind of influence a lifetime pursuit.
“I understand what a lot of players have gone through,” he said. “I can be relatable to them. I’ve started before. I’ve been benched before. I’ve been hurt before. There are a lot of things I’ve experienced. I’m not really the yelling type, to be on people just to be on people, so it’s nice to be able to just sit there and talk to them like they’re teammates.”
It’s no longer like playing, Wartman-White said. But it’s football. It’s a dream. And as both he and Reihner have learned, both are hard to give up once they’ve gripped you.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT