HOUSTON -- After six days away from home, the Houston Cougars returned to campus on Thursday night after evacuating the city because of Hurricane Harvey.
The storm, which ravaged the city with catastrophic flooding and record rainfall over the span of several days, also impacted some of the school's athletic facilities.
The Fertitta Center -- the Cougars' basketball arena formerly known as Hofheinz Pavilion -- is "virtually a swimming pool," according to athletic director Hunter Yurachek. The arena is currently being renovated and wasn't expected to be used this season; it's scheduled to open for the 2018-19 basketball season.
Other than that, Yurachek said the school was fortunate not to sustain major damage to facilities.
"We have been unbelievably blessed from an athletic facilities standpoint," Yurachek said. "We've got some minor leaks and cosmetic repairs that we'll have to make, but nothing's going to interfere with our teams preparing for their upcoming games."
Water is being pumped out of both the Fertitta Center and the Cougars' indoor football practice facility. There was some flooding in the Carl Lewis Auditorium, which hosts the football team's meetings, but that was cleaned out in time for the team to have a meeting shortly after arriving in town on Thursday night.
The Cougars were relieved to be home after the extended trip. The team left Houston on Friday before Harvey made its way into the Houston area and stayed in Austin, where they used the University of Texas' practice facility and weight room for workouts. The prepared for a game on Saturday vs. UTSA that was ultimately canceled, something Yurachek felt was the right decision, given the circumstances.
"It was in the best interest of our student-athletes," Yurachek said.
The players seemed to agree. Several Cougars said they spent much of the last week, outside of football practice and workouts, glued to their phones, speaking to loved ones and checking for updates back home.
It was a sobering experience.
"We were all in the same boat," defensive line coach A.J. Blum said. "[The players] knew we didn't know what was in store for our families and we didn't know what was in store for theirs."
Upon arrival, there were lots of smiles and tired faces for the Cougars, who spent the first half of the day loading equipment trucks full of donations in Austin before departing for Houston. After their team meeting, stacks of 150 pizzas and dozens of plastic bags filled with snacks awaited them as they unloaded the team buses and prepared to head home to their families.
"It feels great [to be back home]," offensive tackle Marcus Oliver said."I'm ready to get back and just see my family."
It capped off an eventful week, one that saw the emotions run the gamut. As team staff came off the first bus on Thursday night, Yurachek greeted longtime Houston trainer Mike O'Shea, who sported an ear-to-ear grin.
Yurachek shouted "Welcome back!" and gave a hug to the man the Cougars call "Doc."
O'Shea responded, in three words that summed up Cougars' feelings on Thursday: "I made it."