TAMPA, Fla. -- When Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Javien Elliott intercepted a pass by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday, the play was more than just a young player getting his first interception -- it also impacted those in Elliott's hometown of Panama City, Florida, which was damaged heavily by Hurricane Michael in October.
"I'm glad it happened during that day because it was a moment bigger than me," Elliott said.
Javien Elliott after seeing Andrew Adams earlier: "THIS one is mine" ...probably. pic.twitter.com/MbdUtKfTjQ— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
As part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative, Elliott paid homage to his hometown with one cleat dedicated to his late uncle's outreach ministry, Pastor Cager Wells' Heart of Cager Foundation, which is based in Panama City. The other cleat featured the words Panama City as a tribute for all those affected by Hurricane Michael.
The Category 4 storm ripped through the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10 with wind speeds of 155 mph. Elliott's grandmother, Betty Stanley, lost her home. His aunt's house also suffered significant damage. Elliott hasn't been able to return home for a visit.
"They just say it's devastating," Elliott said. "It hits close to home because it is home, but I still haven't seen it with my own eyes. I feel like once I see it, it's gonna hurt even more on the inside because I'm actually seeing it. Right now it's like, I'm living a normal life. I'm living in a regular city. But back home, it's like, it's pretty much ... messed up."
A number of Panama City schools are still serving as Red Cross shelters. One of two area hospitals, Bay Medical Sacred Heart, remains closed and will have to lay off up to 800 employees because of storm damage.
Elliott said he struggled to reach family in the days that followed the storm because of downed cellphone towers and power lines.
"Imagine that. You don't know what's going on," Elliott said. "Not only my whole family, but my friends, anybody -- you just don't know. When I got into contact with them, it was just like complete relief."
There was also uncertainty for Elliott during that time. Elliott was waived by the Bucs on Oct. 23. He re-signed with the practice squad two days later before he was called up Oct. 30. In three seasons with Tampa Bay, he has been cut three times. The uncertainty of football pales in comparison to an uncertain life, something he carries with him to work every day now.
"No matter what I'm going through, when I look back at the people going through stuff at home -- sleeping in tents outside of their houses that have nothing -- how can I complain about anything?" Elliott asked.
"Panama City is a small town. It's just sad that it had to happen like that. ... Material things you can always get back. Everybody's alive -- that's the main thing."