Silver linings playbook: Football makes most out of catastrophe
Preparation for the 2017 season has been anything but routine for football’s players and coaches, who are attempting to field a successful team while also trying to restore normalcy to the program and community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
On Aug. 25, as Harvey strengthened to a Category 4 storm and barreled toward the Gulf Coast, the team announced they would temporarily move football operations to Austin. When an unprecedented 51 inches of rain inundated the city over the coming days, hundreds of impassable roads forced the Cougars to stay put in the capital through the week.
University of Houston officials were left with no choice but to suspend all athletic events due to the catastrophic flooding in the area. With that, the Cougars were given the opportunity to shift their focus from the UTSA Roadrunners—whom the team had been preparing for—to the city of Houston.
“You don’t move on, but you have to compartmentalize,” head coach Major Applewhite said. “That’s one thing we kept talking about last week. We have to compartmentalize what is and what we have to do. That’s a great lesson for us to learn.”
According to Applewhite, between 10 and 15 players were directly affected by the storm with their families being forced from their homes due to high water and dangerous situations. He said players not originally from the area have stepped up by volunteering to house their teammates.
Lending a helping hand
Using the ample supply of man power at their disposal to their benefit, the Cougars wasted no time in venturing into the community to aid in the heavy-lifting that comes with the cleanup of teammate’s homes.
“We had a lot of different groups go out with their units, so it was by position,” Applewhite said. “The defensive backs went out and helped D.J. (Small). I know Dillon (Birden) had some running backs go out and help him. It was all based on need and by positio.. If you were one of those that needed help from your position group, they were there to help.”
However, football’s relief efforts stretched far beyond helping out flooded teammates and coaches.
While in Austin, seven other Texas universities — Baylor, SMU, Texas State, Texas, Texas Tech, UTSA and UNT — lent their football equipment trucks to be filled to the brim with Harvey relief supplies. The trucks assembled at distribution points, where they loaded up on items prior to convoying back to Houston in a display of generosity.
With thousands of donations packed into the seven 18-wheelers, the Cougars had their work cut out for them upon returning their home city.
“We had a great opportunity for our players to take all the goods we collected there in Austin and take them to a shelter that was able to provide to a community that didn’t have a lot,” Applewhite said. “It’s eye opening when you have that opportunity to see what some are lacking in basic necessities. For our staff, our wives and players to see that — I felt like that was a really good learning experience.”
On to Arizona
Football now tries to focus on the task at hand: preparing for a matchup at the Arizona Wildcats’ stadium on Saturday night. Although the Cougars had a well-established practice and training regimen before Harvey, they must try to rediscover consistency to find success on the field.
“We needed to get every player’s mind locked in,” Applewhite said. “Now that we are locked in: What is our routine? How do we prepare? How do we prepare our minds? How do we prepare our bodies? What kind of premium do we put on our preparation versus our opponent’s preparation? How do we focus on us?”
A break in the clouds for the Cougars following Harvey was the realization that their downtime could be used to their advantage against the Wildcats.
Applewhite had his coaches and players watch football games over the weekend to stay mentally sharp without having a game or practices. The first-year head coach said that picking up on the Week 1 successes and failures of other programs can go a long way in helping his team learn from obedience.
“I told the guys, ‘Let’s watch what happens in some college football games,’” Applewhite said. “Let’s see some substitution errors, let’s see some delay of game errors. Let’s see a special teams error where the punter goes down with the football and takes a knee. Let’s learn about all the little things we can and let’s be conscious of it because we lost that game experience.”