Family, friends remember Whitney|No. 66 brought a quick laugh to all

Published 3:45 pm Friday, September 4, 2009

Sports Editor

People have been streaming into the home of Louis and Sharon Whitney all week long. Family and friends have stopped by to pay their respects, laugh and cry while remembering their beloved son, Neal Whitney.
The friendly, outgoing Whitney was tragically killed Saturday morning.
His family and friends can’t help but laugh and smile while recalling his life, cut way too short at the age of 21.
“He is in a better place,” said Davelle Whitney, Neal’s older brother. “That’s what’s keeping me strong.”
Neal Whitney, a 2007 graduate of Southside High School, was a star football player for the Seahawks. He was named the 2006 WDN Defensive Player of the Year, and earned the Seahawk Award, the most prestigious award then-Southside coach DeWayne Kellum awarded each season.
“He was an awesome kid,” Kellum said. “When he first started, he played in the shadow of a lot of great players. Like most kids, we tried to get him serious.
“When it was his chance, he got serious and knew it was on his shoulders. He stepped up when he got the chance. That’s why we gave him the Seahawk Award. He was a heck of a football player.”
An emotional Kellum said Neal Whitney was much more than just a great player.
“He was a great, fun person to be around,” Kellum said. “He would always make you smile and laugh.
“He had the kindest heart and he was a joy to be around.”
A viewing will be held today from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Randolph Funeral Home on Bonnerton Street in Washington.
Southside High School will pay tribute to Neal Whitney during tonight’s home football game against Pamlico.
The funeral will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Southside High School.
The place will obviously be packed with those who loved and cared for Neal Whitney. His friends have nothing but fond memories of No. 66.
“Neal was more than a friend,” former Southside great Raphael Marable said. “He was a brother to me and Jeremiah. Me and Neal went to elementary school and played flag football together. When he got to middle school, we (worked on) our skills in the neighbor’s cornfields all summer with his brother, Davelle, and local community friends. Neal was the comedian to keep us continuing to play through the night even though the street lights were on.
“Once we got in high school I spent summers at his house where we practiced football together and he started me on an egg diet so I could get big (he always joked with people smaller than him). On the field even though I didn’t tell him, he was a beast. Undersized at nose guard and defensive end, he plowed through defenders like a ram on cleats. When it was 3rd-and-3 or 4th-and-2 in the red zone, I didn’t worry back there in the safety spot about coming up to help because my boy, Neal, would get a sack or a tackle for a loss.”
Marable said there was much more to Neal Whitney than being a standout athlete.
“He would be the fierce man on the field and the humorous guy you would meet off the field,” Marable said. “We had to run often because of his mouth or coach Kellum would tell him to hush. Though he was all about football and weights, as a friend he gave his support to me on the basketball court. He was there on nights when I had the worst games of my life. He would joke with me and, because of them, that made me want to be better. He was there on nights when I had the best games of my high school. He praised me for that and built my confidence.
“His brother, my brother, Neal and I were known as the brothers to carry the sports legacy at Southside. As both Neal and his brother were WDN Defensive Player of Year, me and my brother were well known tri-athletes. So we often combined the two families when heading out of town to play basketball or football as we knew we would be representing our city. He was a good friend that will be forever missed.”
K.J. Reddick, another former standout at Southside, had praise for his fallen friend.
“Neal was simply the life of any situation,” Reddick said. “He was kind of like a sparkplug in a sense. One memory that stood out to me was when he didn’t come prepared to play in a basketball tournament in Aurora. He just went as a spectator.
“I needed someone to fill my last spot and he stepped up to the plate without hesitation. He played with me against a team that we were out-manned against as far as size, and he had to play the post position against a dude twice his height, but he gave it his all. He was a great defensive presence at his size and he showed me the real definition of having a ‘lion heart.’”
A pair of former Southside cheerleaders who used to cheer on the likes of Neal Whitney remembered him fondly.
“I just remember his big smile,” said Carmen Kellum, the daughter of DeWayne Kellum. “After a long practice or game, he always had those pearly whites shining.”
Ashley (Nanney) Grant said it’s difficult to lose such a good person.
“It’s really sad; he was too young,” Grant said. “It’s a terrible loss. I just feel for his family.”
North Carolina Wesleyan running back Bryan Haywood, a former Southside star, said he and Neal Whitney were close.
“Neal was like a little brother to me,” Haywood said. “He always had a big mouth on and off the field. Neal will truly be missed and my prayers go out to his family.”
Travis Midgette, a former Southside star, recalled an outgoing Neal Whitney.
“The thing that I do remember about Neal was his personality,” Midgette said. “I’m sure just about everyone knows how he could crack a joke that would make you laugh for days. Both of the brothers always kept me laughing. I hope the family realizes that Neal is in a better place.”
Neal Whitney, No. 66, may be gone. But he certainly won’t be forgotten.