Hall of Famers are supposed to be magical from the get-go.
That was hardly with the case with then-North Andover High sophomore quarterback John Routhier back in September of 1992.
“It was very, very nerve-racking,” recalled Routhier, who’ll be inducted into the Johnson High-North Andover High Hall of Fame on April 27. “Coach (Mike) Cavanaugh could be pretty demanding. It was the first play at the 1(yard line) vs. Triton. I audibled to a play which wasn’t even possible! I fumbled the ball and Triton recovered for the TD. I didn’t start off very promising.”
He made up for that a hundred-fold, capped off by his senior year leading the Scarlet Knights to their first perfect season in 54 years.
It gets better. His grandfathers, Paul Routhier Sr. and Leo Lafond Sr., were both on that undefeated 1940 team.
It gets better still. John follows his father, Paul Jr., and his 89-year-old grandfather, Paul Sr., into the Hall.
“It feels pretty good,” said John. “My grandfather is probably happier and prouder than anyone. It’s pretty neat. He really wanted it to happen while he was still alive.”
His family should know how to properly celebrate. The former All-Scholastic QB estimates between Routhiers and Lafonds, he must have 10 relatives in the Hall. That includes his cousin Stacey Lafond Caravella, who also will be inducted on the 27th.
He reeled off his father, grandfather, Stacey, Bill Lafond, Paul Lafond (not one but two of them!), Leo Lafond, Bill Iminski and Bill McEvoy as relatives in the Hall. And he said he may have forgot a couple.
With that sort of tradition, there was no chance he’d go to any other school.
Or was there?
At that time, North Andover had cut funding for sports. Football become a political football.
Routhier was in middle school and didn’t know what to do.
Then Brooks coach Dan Rorke let him know he’d love to have him.
“I almost went to play with Dan,” said the 36-year-old Routhier, who went on to enjoy a fine career as a running back at Tufts, rushing for 1,187 yards and nine touchdowns.
But funds were eventually allocated for complete funding of North Andover High sports again.
“There was a lot of pride for my family and friends,” he said of wearing the Scarlet and Black. “I’m a fourth-generation North Andoverite. You know how much it means to the town and friends and family. It was pretty special.”
Routhier was the headliner of that great Scarlet Knight team, although he never expected to be. His close friend, young phenom Rob Konrad, was supposed to be his backfield mate. But the massive fullback had an 11th-hour change of heart. He ended up at St. John’s Prep and later starred at Syracuse and played six years in the same backfield with Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins.
“We made a pact and he broke it,” said Routhier with a laugh. He admits they rarely talked after that until breaking the ice during practice for the Shriners All-Star Game their senior year.
That memorable 1994 season nearly never came to fruition. In Week 6, Routhier broke his left arm in the first half against Hamilton-Wenham. He played the rest of the game but things got worse.
“The next day I couldn’t even move my hand,” said Routhier, the Eagle-Tribune’s 1994 Offensive MVP. “They thought it was broken in two different places. Luckily it wasn’t.”
He got a cast and insisted he could play. The problem was, it was a big cast. Too big, he thought.
“I cut the cast down pretty good with the help of my dad,” he admitted.
Did the doctor know?
“Absolutely not!” he said.
Without their gifted dual-threat quarterback, it’s highly doubtful the Knights would have won the league.
The game after the H-W contest got off to an ominous start with Routhier fumbling three early snaps against Ipswich.
But Routhier, with a lot of help from Eagle-Tribune All-Star center Darryl Perry, eventually figured it out and they were almost flawless on the snaps the rest of the season.
“I just had to concentrate more and Darryl changed the way he snapped,” explained Routhier.
These days even mediocre quarterbacks put up pinball numbers in the spread offenses which have proliferated in the area and nationwide. Routhier’s numbers were awfully impressive for his day (1,004 rushing yards, 19 TDs, 7 TD passes his senior year), but still didn’t do him justice. He also was a brilliant defensive back with seven interceptions in 1994.
As Masconomet coach Jim Pugh said that season, “Pound for pound, he’s the best high school player I’ve seen in a long time.”
North Andover seemed to be the most star-crossed program in the state back then, prior to the bloated current playoff system. The Knights had near misses in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1989. The 1994 team made the playoffs, the first Scarlet Knight team since the modern Super Bowl format was adopted in 1972.
Routhier scored three TDs to lead the Knights past perennial power East Bridgewater, 28-13, to capture the EMass. Division 4A Super Bowl.
That team was inducted into the Hall in 2009.
“That was a bigger moment (than Routhier getting in). Football’s a team sport,” he said.
The next generation
Routhier has achieved success off the field, too. He’s vice president of sales and marketing at Forerun Systems in Waltham. He and his wife, North Andover grad Katie (Venator) Routhier, have a son Jack, who’ll turn 1 in two weeks. They are expecting a second child in October.
John assisted John Rafferty with the Knights football team for a couple years. His brother Matt, who was a fine football player and wrestler in his own right, is an assistant wrestling coach. The head coach is their cousin, Carl Cincotta.
John reports Jack seems to have inherited the family’s athletic genes.
“He might be a lefty,” he said. “He’s a pretty fast crawler. He’s built like a linebacker.”
The bad news for Scarlet Knight enthusiasts is that the Routhiers live in Newburyport.
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.