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Floridian, Georgian ONU football players compete in midst of Southern hurricanes

Sophomore Brenden Hadley, a native of Bradenton, Florida, catches a pass in Northern's win over Muskingum on October 22, 2016. While his family was urged by government officials to stay home from work during Hurricane Matthew, they suffered no damage from the storm. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

While the Northern football team has dealt with struggles on the field this season -- the Polar Bears are 4-4 and rebuilding after losing multiple key seniors from last year’s team -- some players have dealt with distractions at home due to hurricanes that have swept through the South.

There are 23 players on the team’s roster from Florida and four from Georgia, according to head coach Dean Paul.

Northern’s roster contains players from all parts of the Sunshine State, and some players’ hometowns were affected more by Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew this fall than others.

For Christian Randolph, a starting defensive back and Tallahassee native, Hermine hit home harder than Matthew. Hermine, which moved from the Gulf of Mexico to Florida on September 1, hit Florida’s ‘Big Bend’ region (the area where the state’s peninsula meets the panhandle, which includes Tallahassee) harder than any other region of the country.

It was labeled a Category 1 hurricane, with winds reaching 80 mph and power outages affecting nearly 70,000 Tallahasseeans after the first night. Florida governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for 51 counties, and urged those who live in mobile homes to evacuate to shelter areas (school gyms, etc.).

“Even though it was a Category 1, it tore up the city real bad,” Randolph said.

Randolph’s family went without power for a few days, and his grandmother was without power for over a week; she had to buy a generator. Most of the city suffered damage from fallen trees and power lines, along with water damage.

Although Randolph’s family was not forced to evacuate, the junior still felt the need to contact his family every day during the week of the storm.

“When you first get the news, the first thing I did was call to see if I needed to go back home and see what the plan was from there,” Randolph said. “My first instinct was to go check on them at home. Prayer is a big thing, and then just texting or FaceTiming before practice.”

While Hermine took a toll on the Northern part of Florida, Matthew seemed to leave its mark on the Southern and Eastern regions of the state.

Junior defensive lineman Jason Hundley, a native of St. Cloud (located thirty minutes southeast of Orlando) says that his family was “preparing for the worst storm to hit Florida in like 50 or 60 years” in the days before Matthew was scheduled to strike.

Osceola County officials instituted mandatory evacuations for those in mobile homes, and called Matthew’s occurrence “an extremely dangerous situation” in the days preceding the storm.

Hundley’s family bought generators, canned foods, water and sandbags, to prevent water from coming into their house.

Fortunately, things didn’t go as expected.

“The storm didn’t take a turn where it was supposed to, and it didn’t hit us as hard as everybody expected it to,” Hundley said. “Our power didn’t go out or anything, we just had rain and some wind.”

In the Southern part of the state, damage from Matthew was also minimal.

Mark Aguilar, a junior defensive lineman from Dade County, says that his family’s community experienced wind damage and debris from Matthew (which hit Miami on October 5), but that they were still largely unaffected by the storm.

“Since they’d been through it before, they weren’t as worried about it,” Aguilar said of his family. “There have definitely been worse hurricanes than that one.”

Aguilar says that there is a big difference between living on the coast and living where he lives, just 10 minutes inland, during a hurricane.

“During the hurricane, it’s usually the coast that gets most of the damage,” Aguilar said. “My parents live about 10-15 minutes inland, which is actually really good compared to the coast. From on the coast to about 10 minutes inland makes a very big difference.”

Other Polar Bears such as sophomore Brenden Hadley, from western Florida, and junior Nate Jones, from central Georgia, said that their hometowns were largely unscathed by Hermine and Matthew; rain and wind damage served as the extent of the storms’ effects.

During the weeks of the hurricanes, Paul approached the Southern-born players individually to ask how they and their families were doing.

“I just talked to the guys and figured out how their families are doing. [There was] no big team meeting or anything, just individual conversations,” Paul said.

“There was concern… For a few days you wonder, ‘Where is this hurricane going to hit, how bad is it going to be?’ But I think after everything settled down, it looks like everybody’s OK.”

Although relatively little damage was done to the players’ hometowns, concern was still high earlier in the fall as the storms swept across the South.

“It could’ve been a distraction, because obviously your family is number one, they’re the most important thing,” Randolph said. “But just the reassurance from them- that everything was under control and everything was going to be alright- helped me focus on the game that week. But it’s definitely something that’s in the back of your head. Right after the game, you’re calling and seeing how they’re doing.”

Randolph and Jones say that while their families have experienced tropical storms over the three years they’ve been at Northern, this year’s hurricanes (or at least the warnings of them) have been the first of their kind. And with two having already hit the South this fall, the juniors aren’t ruling out the possibility of future storms just yet.

“You never know,” Randolph said. “There might be another one next week.”

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