Students venture off to college for one of three reasons: to enroll in their dream major, to follow in their family’s footsteps or to find a path that will lead them to a successful future. For some, it’s all three.
Will Anti grew up in Georgia watching both his grandfather and his father shoot rifles professionally. Little did Anti know that the day he picked up and shot his first rifle would one day lead him to be the youngest NCAA rifle coach.
While he enjoyed studying business at West Virginia University, the sport was his first love – trading in risk management and ROIs for rifles.
After graduating in May 2019, Anti took his first coaching job in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the USA Shooting Paralympic coach and now he is starting his second coaching job at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Intimidated, but excited,” he said.
We caught up with Anti before he made the move to Alaska to learn how he got his start in shooting rifles and how his love for the sport has turned into a full-time career.
Q: When did you first start shooting rifles and why?
A: I started shooting when I was 10 years old and at that time my dad was shooting for the Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Georgia. Him and my grandfather are why I got into it. One day I just asked him if I could shoot with him after school. He was an Olympic shooter and shot in the 1992 games, as well as 2000, 2004 and 2008 games – winning a medal in 2004 in Athens. He’s had a successful career with rifle and, most recently, my family moved to Maryland where he is the head coach at the U.S. Navy Academy so my team will compete against his team in the NCAA.
Q: When kids your age were playing soccer or basketball, what made you continue to choose rifle?
A: When I was about 13 I had decided this was the sport for me. I had played a couple different sports, but rifle stuck with me. It’s a very unique sport, as it challenges you in ways that are different from other sports. It’s not necessarily the most physically demanding sport, but it’s a really mental sport and it requires you to think at a very high level for an extended period of time. It’s a sport that is available to so many people because it doesn’t require you to be six foot and it doesn’t require you to have 3.5 percent body fat. Truly, anyone can shoot if they have the desire and put themselves through the mental rigor that is the sport.
Q: What made you decide to be a college athlete at West Virginia University?
A: I started getting recruited by a number of schools when I was just 17 years old. When you’re an NCAA athlete you can go on a maximum of five official visits and WVU was one of them. My dad actually went to WVU and, oddly enough, he was also the captain of the rifle team when he was a senior. It was nice to have those family ties, but when I was on the campus and around the team, I felt they both could provide me with the best resources for me to excel in the classroom and in the sport. The coaching staff at WVU is phenomenal, too, and really create an environment for athletes to thrive in.
Q: Can you elaborate on the WVU rifle team and its coaching staff?
A: Jon Hammond (WVU’s Head Rifle Coach) is definitely a mentor – one of my biggest supporters. He stuck with me in times when I wasn’t shooting great and in times when I was shooting well. He brought unconditional support to the team and that’s all you can hope for in a coach, is someone who sees the value in you when you’re struggling to see it yourself as an athlete. I learned so much from him as a coach: his demeanor, how he talks to people both on and off the team, and how to work through good and difficult days. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I still call on him quite a bit even in my job right now with the national team, I talk to him on a weekly basis, and he will be getting plenty of calls from me in my next job. As far as my old teammates, I still talk to them often. They’re still my closest group of friends. John really built that environment for us to become a family even after we all graduated.
Q: How did the rifle team do while you were a member?
A: WVU is the winningest NCAA program of all time in shooting. We’ve won 19 national championships and I was a part of two. We won four conference championships in my four years there. Ginny Thrasher and I were on the team those four years together and we were both undefeated on the team, meaning we never lost a regular season match. The WVU rifle team is hugely successful – they still are and will continue to be. Funny enough, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the second winningest team, winning 10 national championships, so they’re a successful team, too, and I hope we can continue that success.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to major in business?
A: No. When I visited WVU I actually met with the Wildlife Biology department because that’s what I thought I was going to major in. Then, when college got a little closer, I had a couple different interests and I switched to finance during New Student Orientation. I liked finance right away and my advisor encouraged me to add a second major in accounting, and I’m so glad I did that.
Q: How did you manage double majoring and competing as a college athlete?
A: I always laugh at the work-life balance phrase because I haven’t experienced it and I don’t really have a desire to experience it. At WVU, it was really long days. We always had our classes in our morning as much as we could and then we had rifle practice for four or five hours in the afternoon and went to our strength trainer after that. By the time all that was done, it was 7 or 8 o’clock and that’s when I would eat dinner and do homework. It was a long day, but that’s how I still like it. I like to be busy and feel like I filled my whole day and didn’t leave any energy out there.
Q: Does your job as a coach keep you just as busy?
A: Yes. I’ve been thankful that the job I have right now is very much the same. I show up at 7 a.m. and I probably don’t leave until 7 p.m., and that’s okay because there’s a lot of interesting work and there’s a lot of it to do. Typically there’s a lot of international and domestic travel with it, too.
Q: How do your business degrees help you be a better coach?
A: Even though I have worked zero days in accounting (or finance), they definitely helped me in securing these past two coaching jobs. Yes, I am a coach, but when you’re an NCAA coach or a national team coach you’re also the manager of the team, and you have to be looking over the budgeting, the financial forecasting and have interpersonal communication skills. While majoring in finance and accounting, then taking a coaching job is not the traditional path, much of what I learned at the business school carries into my coaching job and has helped me stay successful.
Q: What is so special at Chambers College and West Virginia as a whole?
A: Their unconditional support. Every professor at the business school is willing to go to any length to help their students. Even once you graduate and they don’t necessarily have to help you, they still do, they still want to support you. I could call on any one of them today and know that they would be ready to help. My original plan was to go work at an accounting firm in Washington, D.C., and then circle back and go to law school, so my current position is far from the original plan. My old professors, like Naomi Boyd, encouraged me to follow my passion both times. She’s big on doing what you want to do even if it’s not the traditional path.
Q: What advice would you give to other students?
A: Two things. First, you need to be using all of the resources at your disposal; especially with your faculty. When you’re in the job market, it’s the same thing. I reached out to Dr. Boyd, Dr. Wong, and John – those are my resources now. You have to utilize your resources to set yourself apart from other people. If you’re not, you’re not getting the full value out of your education because there are so many people who want to help you. If you take advantage of that, you’ll be successful. Second, one thing that I wish I had been better at while I was in college, is to be more grateful while you’re in it. Thank people when they help you because you don’t realize how far above and beyond some of these professors and these coaches are going until you’re on the other side and you see how much work they’re putting into helping you.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: There’s always a five-, 10- or 20-year plan, and I’ve done a pretty horrible job at following any of them so far. The plan is a moving target for sure. New and interesting things just keep coming up, so the plan evolves as they come up. Earning an MBA or going to law school could also be in my future. I think it’s important for students to know that even if they have a concrete plan, they should still be open to options and you want to be open to those.