---- — For two reasons, Todd Whitley never thought he’d become a North Andover great.
First, he never thought he’d attend North Andover. And second, he never thought he’d be great.
But, as it turned out, Whitley (NAHS ‘86) had a storied career for the Scarlet Knights.
He grew up in Salisbury, stayed in the district even when his family moved to North Andover but transferred in high school. Needless to say, the Triton game was circled on his calendar.
“That was the most amazing thing, the rivalry with Triton and Jimmy Kelley,” said Whitley from his business in Texas. “He was my next door neighbor. I looked up to him.”
Playing for the Amesbury Pop Warner team, Whitley said, “Jimmy was No. 1 growing up and I was No. 2”.
That changed in high school when Whitley took a backseat to no one.
He said, “The stadium was packed at Triton. I knew the entire team. Going up against them it was very emotional. I killed him. It was awesome.”
That was his junior year and Whitley’s 29-yard TD run with 1:40 to play gave the Knights a 28-21 win and clinched at least a share of the Cape Ann League title.
There were a lot of performances like that as Whitley rushed for 4,461 yards and 40 TDs for the Scarlet Knights.
Another unforgettable game was his last game in Scarlet and Black ... the 1985 Thanksgiving game in a horrible snowstorm against Masconomet. The 5-9, 190-pounder rushed for 267 yards and three scores.
Whitley recalled, “The old Lawrence coach (Gerry Callagy) said, ‘You have to use your heels when running in snow.’ I did it and it worked!”
His sophomore year, the Knights were just 3-6-1. But then it was back to back 9-1 campaigns. Back then, however, only 10 teams in all of Eastern Mass. qualified for the Super Bowls. It seemed the Knights would always be edged out on some obscure tie-breaker.
It was like expecting a new bike for Christmas and getting a toothbrush instead.
“That point system,” he sighed, echoing the frustration of thousands of Turkey Towners from that era. “I don’t know. We lost one game every year. It was ridiculous.”
His junior year, it was a season-opening 27-7 setback to Barnstable. Senior year it was a 21-13 Week 6 loss to Hamilton-Wenham.
The two-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star played with a slew of greats like head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s son Mike Cavanaugh Jr. at quarterback, wide receiver Rob Cheevers, future Memphis State standout lineman Rick Fredette, middle linebacker/lineman Nick DiChiara and defensive back/wide receiver Pete Lahaye.
They, too, were Eagle-Tribune All-Stars with Cheevers being selected twice.
Coach Cavanaugh said at the time, “Todd is as quick as he is fast. He has a very strong upperbody and was seldom brought down by one tackler.”
He was brought down by injury, though.
Whitley’s football career seemed over when he blew out his knee during the Agganis All-Star game after graduation. He admits to not being much of a student in high school but turned it around at Northern Essex. The knee always gave him problems but he did play a couple years at the University of San Diego. The Toreros, at the time, were a top Division 3 program.
The adversity matured him.
In a 1989 Los Angeles Times story, Whitely (yes, they misspelled his name throughout!) referred to his North Andover days: “I was the glory boy with the ego to go with it.”
The Whitley name is well known in North Andover. His father, Pat Whitley, is the popular radio personality and restaurant reviewer.
His niece, Krissy Whitley, starred for the Knights and then was the 2012 Eagle-Tribune Athlete of the Year for her softball heroics at Southern Connecticut. His nephew, Tyler Whitley, was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star baseball player last spring.
Todd struck out on his own and has lived in Texas for 15 years.
He’s the CEO of Mintech Repair in Carrollton, outside of Dallas. The company repairs telecommunications optical equipment.
“I love Texas,” said Whitley, who has a son in college and a daughter in high school. “It’s a wonderful place to raise children.”
He said the company “is a $15-$20 million corporation which is growing significantly. We took a beatdown after 9-11. I struggled for 10 years but we are back up again and going exceptionally well.”