Tom VanHaaren, ESPN Staff Writer 417d

Houston Cougars finally headed home, loaded with donations

College Football, Houston Cougars

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Houston Cougars have been on the move because of Hurricane Harvey for a week, working out in Austin, Texas, since evacuating because of the storm.

Thursday, finally, they got the word that they were headed home.

But instead of preparing for a season opener against UTSA, the Cougar coaches have been checking to make sure that every player's family is safe and figuring out how to help the massive relief effort. 

"It has been audible after audible after audible," first-year Houston coach Major Applewhite said. "We have not run the play we called once."

The Cougars will be coming back from Austin with more than they left with. They held a donation drive for those affected by the hurricane, then got the support of every FBS program in the state to bring the donations back.

SMU, Baylor, Texas, Texas State, UTSA and North Texas all volunteered their equipment trucks, which were loaded with various supplies all day Thursday.

Applewhite's first season as head coach has been a whirlwind.

He didn't want to overreact to the news that the hurricane was approaching early in the week but was monitoring its path. Once the team found out that Houston would be hit by the storm, the football operations staff moved the team to a hotel in Houston for two nights.

"We had a mock game set up for Saturday, where we go through our substitutions, we get the coaches in the press box and go through the mechanics," Applewhite said. "So we did our mock game on Thursday and when we finished, the weather moved a lot. Thursday night we were up until 2:30 in the morning trying to figure out where we could have practice on Friday."

The team never made it that far, though, as the hurricane approached faster.

Applewhite looked to take his team elsewhere to be able to get in their scheduled practice. Baylor, SMU and TCU all offered their facilities, but all locations were too far for what Applewhite wanted.

The staff decided that the University of Texas would be the best option and left for Austin on Friday night, expecting to stay for three days. The storm hit, though, and the team has been in Austin for nearly seven.

"Sunday morning, I got up, and traditionally our week is Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in terms of practice days," Applewhite said. "But seeing all the players, I was like this is not the right mindset to go into our first game. I see too many kids crying and nervous."

Applewhite gave the team Sunday off from practice so everyone could deal with the effects of the storm.

He took the time to gather information from his players and staff on what families were in danger from the storm and who needed to be checked on to ensure their safety. The coaches came back with a list of a dozen names that they then took to the Houston police departments. By 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, everyone on the list was accounted for and safe.

"Then we get off the practice field on Monday, just talking to the different officials with our university and the tune kind of changed in terms of tone," Applewhite said. "I think everybody, we've all been raised that if you're thinking about something too hard, you probably have the answer. So we knew we needed to postpone the game."

Applewhite and his team found out on Tuesday that the game against UTSA would be postponed, but that they would soon be able to head back home. That's when Applewhite and SID David Bassity came up with the plan for the donation drive to bring something back to the city of Houston.

So they loaded supplies on the borrowed trucks all day Thursday, then found out in the afternoon that they will be heading home. It was a relief not only to the players, but to Applewhite as well.

"We've checked on all our kids' living spaces, cars, family members, we've talked to the chief of police and the mayor, and it's safe to go back out there," Applewhite said. "So we'll unpack the trucks on Friday, then the kids have the rest of Friday and Saturday off to be with their families, and then Sunday we'll get back to work and get ready for Arizona."

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