On Monday afternoon, when all talk normally would have been about how Texas is preparing for its 2017 season opener, head coach Tom Herman couldn’t help but briefly put football on the back burner.
Hurricane Harvey hit the state with full force late Friday night, causing catastrophe throughout South Texas and severe, historic flooding in Houston — a city Herman called home just a few months ago.
“The city of Houston is very near and dear to mine and my family’s hearts, not just from our time at U of H,” Herman said. “It’s hard to watch, especially when there’s so many loved ones that are there, affected by it.”
Herman was in contact with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt on Monday, telling Watt the Longhorns will be helping him in his fundraising efforts for the city of Houston.
The difficulty of what has taken place in Houston has still been felt throughout the Texas locker room. Herman said the Longhorns have “21 or so” players from the Houston area whose families have been affected by Harvey, but luckily, all are safe.
“Those guys have been strong,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said. “I don’t know how I would’ve been able to handle that.”
One player whose family has been directly impacted by Harvey is junior cornerback P.J. Locke III. His family’s neighborhood in Beaumont, about two hours northeast of Houston, is flooded. As of now, he doesn’t know if his family can make it to the game Saturday.
“Right now, my situation is pretty bad,” Locke said. “My whole neighborhood is flooded. All the houses are underwater. Luckily, our house kind of sits up high, so the water hasn’t made it there yet. We’re really worried for my family right now.”
Before Harvey hit, Herman’s old team, the Houston Cougars, left Houston on Friday and headed to Austin. Texas opened up its facilities for the Cougars to practice in over the weekend. Houston’s opening game on Saturday against UTSA in San Antonio was postponed for a later date to be determined. Right now, the Cougars are unsure when they’ll return to Houston.
It’s been a trying situation for Houston’s first-year head coach Major Applewhite, a former Longhorn quarterback and Herman’s offensive coordinator for two seasons at Houston. But Herman said the hurricane has brought out the best in his former assistant.
“We talk a couple times a day through all of this,” Herman said. “For a guy that’s never been a head coach, has only been a head coach for eight, nine months, to be thrown this big of a curve ball in your first season would be tough for anyone. He’s handling it as good as possible.”
Despite the tragic events that have unfolded in Texas, the Longhorns will still take the field Saturday to kick off their 2017 season against Maryland.
Football has always been a unifying force in the state of Texas, and in a time of disaster, Texas lent its hand to a fellow state program in Houston. It’s part of a larger quality of sports Herman said people can learn from.
“It’s really, really cool to see times like this,” Herman said. “If there is a silver lining, I think it is that society can take a big lesson from what we do every day in sports. That’s that we trust people, we accept them, we work really hard with them and for them to help them achieve their goals.”