Abdallah Excited For Louisiana Return

Nader Abdallah saw much of his family's home and business ruined by Hurricane Katrina. Now the Ohio State defensive tackle gets the chance to return to the area for what might be the biggest football game of his life. The Metairie, La., native reflected recently on the impact the storm had on him and discussed how much he's looking forward to the trip.

For most of the players on Ohio State's football roster, the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 7 is a chance to play in the biggest game on the biggest stage for the chance to see a childhood dream come true.

For Buckeye defensive tackle Nader Abdallah, it's that and a whole lot more.

The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana gave much to the Abdallah family at one point. It gave his Palestinian parents a livelihood, and it gave Nader a chance to play football and earn a college scholarship.

Then came Hurricane Katrina, which took away much from the family, just as it did for many in the region.

So it's a neat twist of fate that Abdallah, a son of the area, will participate in a major sporting event to be staged in the city. While the rest of his teammates are interested to see the area they heard so much about on the news three summers ago, Abdallah firsthand knows the destruction it caused and now gets to be part of a signal of the area's rebirth.

"It's going to be the greatest experience of my life, going back home to play against my former teammates, in front of my family," Abdallah told reporters at Ohio State's bowl media day. "It means everything. I'll be able to be a part of history and it will be a real good experience, make my family proud and all my friends."

Abdallah came from a modest living, with his family owning a store, LaSalle's, in the Magnolia projects of Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. He described it as a "restaurant/grocery store/meat market" that was a corner store in the projects. That all changed with the storm.

His parents, Younes and Izzieh, two brothers and a sister fled the area when the storm was on its way, while brother Wesam stayed to man the storefront. After riding out the storm, Wesam reopened the store.

"He didn't think it was that bad," Nader said. "You know, after Katrina, everything was fine, but the levees broke like a day later. That's when everything went bad."

Very bad. As most know, the levees that protect the city, much of which lies below sea level, failed, catastrophically flooding the area. Nader said that Wesam noticed the water rising once people stopped coming to the store. At that point, he went to high ground, the building's attic, before passing out.

"He passed out over there and the next thing he knew, like a bird hits him in the face and he wakes up," Abdallah said. "He looks out and there's nothing but water and there's people shooting, trying to get into the store. It was real bad."

After awakening from his haze, Wesam realized he had to flee, so he grabbed what he had – some water bottles and cash – before jumping out of the attic.

"He had to like swim seven miles to get to the bridge, and then he had to get gas out of cars and steal cars to go all the way to Houston," Nader said. "It was real bad, man. He had to swim through water with dead bodies."

All the while, Nader was in Columbus with the Ohio State team that was wrapping up preseason practice. The hurricane made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, days before the Buckeyes' season opener with Miami (Ohio).

"It was real difficult because it was actually during the season, so I'm trying to focus on football and then I'm worried about my family, what are they going to do and how are we going to survive," Abdallah said. "It was a real tough experience, but Ohio State helped me a lot. The coaches guided me in the right direction."

The Abdallah family is close, as evidenced by the fact that his brother Mazen moved to Columbus this past offseason and helped Nader dedicate himself, work that surely helped the success that he's had this season.

Part of that closeness was no doubt fostered by the time they spent together after the storm. Nader's immediate family – his parents, two brothers and a sister – moved to Columbus to live with him during the time, spending more than half a year living with the Buckeye.

The title game will again give his family a chance to get together. His parents moved back to the Middle East after the storm, but his father will return to the United States for the game (his mother was able to attend the Illinois game in Ohio Stadium). In addition, many of his cousins still live in the New Orleans area.

"They're excited," he said. "They're really looking forward to me going down there. Everybody's asking for tickets and I don't have any tickets – just for my family, really."

Of course, the New Orleans to which Nader Abdallah will return is not the same city in which he grew up. The family store and house were destroyed by the flooding, much like many of the other structures in the area, and the family, which did not have insurance, had to rebuild the house and then sell it. On a personal level, without his parents living in the area and with his siblings living in Houston, it just doesn't quite feel the same.

"You go down there and you're used to seeing your mom and dad, (but) now when I go down there I'm trying to find a place to stay," he said. "I can stay at my cousins' house, but it's not the same feeling because your immediate family isn't there. But it's still a good feeling to see my friends and family. They're all doing better."

Many of the Ohio State players talked of their intrigue about visiting the area they heard so much about in 2005. Abdallah, who will be making his first trip to the area since the summer, has told his teammates what they can expect.

"I told them that the part we're going to be in, which is the French Quarter, that's all going to be rebuilt – you're not even going to notice it," he said. "The only way you're going to notice Katrina and all the problems is if you go to the projects and the east bank, northeast.

"If there's like a shuttle, I'll show them around, but I don't want them going too far because they have some bad parts around there. It's better to stay in the tourist area."

As for what should be done in the area, Abdallah had definite ideas.

"I believe it should be rebuilt because that was the whole community," he said. "That was a big community. I think they're knocking it down and trying to make condominiums and I don't know what they're going to do, but all the people that were in there, they moved to the West Bank, a lot of people moved to Houston, a lot of people moved to Atlanta. I don't know if they're going to rebuild it, but I would like for them to rebuild it."

Some things that Abdallah will be rebuilding on the trip are some relationships with people he knew while living in Louisiana. He attended Archbishop Rummel High School, the same school as LSU defensive back Craig Steltz, while he also knew players like LSU defensive linemen Marlon Favorite and Glenn Dorsey from their days in the state.

"I've been talking to Steltz, Favorite, Dorsey a little bit," he said. "We're all just joking around. It's going to be a great experience."

Abdallah clearly treasures the chance to return to the area, and perhaps it can give him one major gift come the night of Jan. 7.

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