Bradley Dale Peveto has one heck of a challenge in front of him this week.
The football coach at Northwestern State, a Football Championship Subdivision school in Natchitoches, La., must lead his team to West Texas for a matchup with a Texas Tech team whose players will be bigger, faster and stronger.
And to think, that’s probably the easy part.
Peveto’s biggest task this week has been helping keep his team calm and focused while a growing storm approached an area where some players’ family members live. Hurricane Isaac, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by Wednesday afternoon, made landfall in southern Louisiana on Tuesday night, quickly leaving thousands without power.
Northwestern State was forced to alter its plans and leave its campus by bus on Wednesday morning — one day earlier than originally scheduled — in preparation for the 6 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
By Wednesday afternoon it appeared the storm avoided leaving a direct blow on New Orleans, but the team was set to leave in the morning without a full picture of what potential damage they were leaving behind.
“It’s been tough,” Peveto said by phone on Tuesday. “I was at LSU when Katrina hit. These kids don’t know what’s going to happen. We have some worried young men right now because of that history.”
Peveto knows that history all too well. He was entering his first season as an assistant coach at LSU when Hurricane Katrina, the devastating natural disaster that claimed 1,800 lives in August of 2005, roared up the Gulf Coast.
Some of his players lived an even greater nightmare in the wake of the storm. Derek Rose, a senior linebacker, was forced to flee with his family from their home in New Orleans. Rose spent a year in Atlanta, Ga., before returning to Louisiana for his junior and senior seasons of high school.
“Whenever you hear about a hurricane or anything like that, you always think about what happened during Katrina,” Rose said.
Rose counts himself lucky for being able to return to the state he called home. Some of his teammates chased away by the storm settled in Texas, finishing their high school careers here instead of returning to Louisiana.
“That’s why a lot of our guys are excited to come back here and play,” said Rose, whose team finished 5-6 last season.
Tech coach Tommy Tuberville has also experienced the horrors a massive storm can produce. Twenty years ago this month, Tuberville was an assistant at Miami when Hurricane Andrew pounded South Florida, leaving behind more than $26 billion in damage.
“We were at a Saturday scrimmage two weeks before our first game and the head coach (Dennis Erickson) tells us all to go home and take care of our families,” Tuberville recalled. “But it was more than going home and taking care of your families.”
Tuberville’s house was spared during the storm, but the rest of Miami’s coaching staff wasn’t so lucky. Erickson watched his home get ripped apart by the hurricane.
“You go to bed one night, the storm hits and everything is destroyed,” Erickson recounted during an interview with Fox Sports in 2009. “You wake up the next morning and the sun is shining — except there’s nothing there.”
Isaac appeared to be losing strength by Wednesday afternoon, and as the Demons made their way to Texas, focus shifted to a football game they are all eager to play.
“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” said Brad Henderson, Northwestern State’s senior quarterback. “Guys are really excited, ready to play in front of 80,000 fans. We are all fired up.”
Henderson may have overestimated the attendance — at full capacity, Jones AT&T Stadium holds a little more than 60,000 — but it might feel like 80,000 strong to a team playing in a much more hostile environment than it’s used to.
Still, with all that’s going on for the Demons this week, a jam-packed, loud-as-a-rock-concert stadium might just be welcome relief.
“There’s a lot of things that you just can’t imagine what goes on with one of those (hurricanes) coming and then after it’s gone,” Tuberville said. “Our prayers go out to those people down there.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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