Neal Whitney: Rest in peace|Commentary

Published 3:02 pm Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sports Editor

Neal Whitney used to fly around the football field, throwing around his body with reckless abandon. Whitney was a surprising star for the Southside Seahawks, where he blossomed from an unknown into the 2006 WDN Defensive Player of the Year.
Whitney, a phenomenal player that I listed as a starting defensive lineman on my “Dream Team,” a collection of the best football players I have covered in my nine years at the WDN, died tragically. And way too early.
That’s not supposed to happen to football players.
That’s not supposed to happen to young men.
It’s just another precious reminder of how fleeting life can be. That we all need to embrace each day, and each other, with passion.
Whitney, 21, was shot early Saturday morning at Lil’ John’s Club in Chocowinity. He died of a gunshot wound to the torso.
When I saw the news, it was like a wicked punch to the gut. A cheap shot.
I instantly thought of his family, including his brother, Davelle, and sister, Danielya. All were shining stars at Southside High School.
Neal received the Southside Football Seahawk Award in 2006-07. The award winner is given a gold card that makes him a lifetime member of the football team.
Former Southside coach DeWayne Kellum initiated the program. The award is given to the player “that exemplifies what a Seahawks player is, not necessarily the best player on the team or the best athlete, but a good player, with a strong work ethic; someone that is in the weight room all the time; a good student, well behaved, a hard worker, a hustler and just a good all-around person.”
Whitney really became a leader during his senior season, even shocking his head coach at the time.
“Neal came out of nowhere,” Kellum said in a 2006 story about the WDN Defensive Player of the Year. “Before this year, Neal always played hard, but he was always a clown. He was never serious about nothing. If you were to ask me before the season started who would be the one that would step out and lead us in practice when things got tough, he would have been the last person I picked.
“He kept the team focused and that really surprised me. He just didn’t do talking either; he backed up his actions by practicing hard and playing hard.”
Whitney elevated his game to a whole never level, finishing his senior season with 56 tackles, including 24 for-loss.
Neal Whitney was a great football player, and so much more.
He followed in his brother’s footsteps, in more ways than one. Davelle, who went on to have a successful football career at North Carolina Wesleyan, won the WDN Defensive Player of the Year award his senior season, and was awarded the Football Seahawk Award in 2003-04.
Like her brothers, Danielya was a star athlete at Southside. She is currently a member of the Pitt Community College volleyball team.
I can’t imagine what Neal’s siblings, parents, other family members and friends are going through right now.
And I know his other family, his Southside teammates, have to be numb as well.
After the Seahawks played in honor of their former assistant coach, Jeremy Jones, last Friday night, next Friday night at Southside High School will likely be a somber place. Jeremy and his wife, Lindsay, lost their four-month old son Tuesday.
Life dealt another cruel blow to the Southside family Saturday morning.
There will be questions of why? And how?
Tears will flow freely. And often. And in bunches.
Friends, family and teammates will pay tribute to Neal.
They’ll honor a young man who had so much potential. A young man who was a splendid football player. A young man who could deliver a vicious tackle on the field one moment, and an easy smile off the field a moment later.
They’ll remember a friend. A brother. A son.
His memories will bring smiles to those who loved and cared for him.
And, hopefully, in time, those smiles will be far greater than the tears that are flowing so easily right now.
Neal Whitney, rest in peace, friend. Rest in peace.
Kevin Travis is the Sports Editor of the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4217, or by email at