Bloomington, Ind. – After riding out the storm that devastated their home state, the Nicholls State Colonels gladly welcome the distraction of football.
Following a week of uncertainty and with much help from the Indiana athletic department, the Louisiana-based school's football team arrived in Bloomington Friday afternoon to take on the Hoosiers in the Indiana home opener.
"It's really given our guys something to look forward to," said Nicholls State head coach Jay Thomas. "Looking at our schedule back in the off-season, when they found out we were playing Indiana it really gave them something to work for during the summer. It's going to be a great atmosphere. We don't get to play in these types of stadiums all that often. We call it the ‘Bus League' but yeah they're excited about it and it's going to be a great experience for them."
This game remained very much in doubt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Nicholls State campus is located in Thibodaux, La., which is about 60 miles west of New Orleans. While the Nicholls State campus didn't suffer significant damage, many of the team's players and coaches had family members located in some of the hardest hit regions. That was coupled with several logistical issues ranging from travel to uniforms, which eventually forced the cancellation of the season opener at Utah State.
"I tell you what, we were scrambling around trying to get flights, trying to get uniforms and it's been a hectic week, just trying to get our players back in town," said Thomas. "Everyone worked really hard, the coaching staff worked really hard. We don't have the manpower so our coaching staff has to assume most of the duties. Our offensive coordinator is in charge of travel. Our running back coach is in charge of equipment.
"These guys are pulling double duty trying to get travel plans, get uniforms. I'm running around with my hair on fire all day trying to find this stuff. Everything has worked out and it's been going smooth so far."
The game against the Hoosiers was very much in doubt early in the week. Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan worked every angle he could to bring the Colonels to Bloomington.
"It really was a struggle for us," said NSU athletic director Rob Bernardi. "I don't think it was until late Wednesday night when I had a conversation with Rick Greenspan that we really solidified that we were coming. I think there was some concern by the staff, but it did take us longer to finalize than we would have liked.
"We in Louisiana always say we're a hospitable group. But I think we've seen an equal part of hospitality on the part of the IU folks. In fact I just spent some time with Rick and what impresses me most is how genuine all of these people are. They really care about our student athletes and the situation we are in. I have been overly impressed. We appreciate everything IU and the Bloomington community has done for us."
While the trip was in question until late in the week, Indiana and the Nicholls officials found a way for the Colonels to travel to Bloomington on short notice and with few resources available.
"It was a great trip, the kids are really excited and it's good to be here, it really is," said Thomas. "It came down to the wire. Of course the Indiana officials stepped up and did an outstanding job to get us here. Our hats are off to them. They did a great job for us. Everything has been really awesome.
"We had a charter flight out of Baton Rouge. We left Thibodaux at 10 o'clock (Friday) morning and we had a police escort to Baton Rouge which is about an hour and half drive. We couldn't use the interstate (because) traffic in Baton Rouge is horrendous right now. So we had to go the back way through all the small towns. It took us about an hour and a half. We got on the plane, the plane was waiting on us, we checked in, flew here and everything has been really good. The Indiana staff helped us unload our equipment and we got out here to get a little workout. Everything is going great so far."
Now that they are in Bloomington, the Colonels can stop thinking about the destruction at home and worry about being football players, something that was hard after the storm first hit and players had no idea where their family members were.
"I think just getting away from it for a little bit is good for the team because it's everywhere," said Thomas. "It's on the radio, on TV and of course all these guys have family members involved in this thing. It's just going to be a nice little break for them to get away from it for a little while and concentrate on football. They've really done well. Each day of practice has been getting better and better.
"We've had players that when they reported back to campus they didn't know where their family was. So our equipment guy was our liaison to the Red Cross. We filled out paper work for our players and all of our players found their family members and that's the important thing, everyone is safe. Just to have the opportunity to play the game frees their mind a little bit. They were at peace with it once they knew their family was safe."
The canceled opener against Utah State marked the second consecutive season Nicholls State had to cancel a game do to a hurricane. Last season Nicholls canceled its game against Texas A&M-Kingsville due to the threat of Hurricane Ivan.
"We've been through a lot of adversity," said Thomas. "We got a lot of kids that went through it last year and know how to handle it. We have a lot of seniors on this team. It's no stranger to us. We're used to it. Our guys are looking at this trip as one where we're just going to have some fun, play a lot of guys and give ourselves a chance to evaluate a lot of players. It's something we faced last year and we had to face this year. It's just the way it is. It's the way the cards are dealt. We're just going to try to do the best we can."
A Welcomed Distraction
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