Zach McCloud spent the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma “lifting tree branches away from people’s yards,’’ doing pushups for added exercise and chomping on Nutri-Grain bars and apples.
“We have a mango tree that fell down and I was chopping stuff up,’’ explained McCloud Sunday from Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where the team is practicing this week while its evacuated campus gets cleared and ready for school to begin again Monday.
But after the storm, his teammates and coaches, who had an organized, “non-stop monitoring’’ system to keep track of one another, said coach Mark Richt, hadn’t heard from only player: McCloud.
So, the mother of running back Travis Homer — another player who lives in Palm Beach County — drove to McCloud’s house to make sure he was OK.
“I couldn’t reach out,’’ said McCloud, whose family lost power and “just talked’’ to each other. “Not a whole lot to do,’’ said McCloud. “We just enjoyed each other.’’
How did that make him feel when Homer’s mom showed up?
“It enforces the feeling that I have a family here, and people care about other people on this team,’’ he said.
The Hurricanes were back at it Sunday after practicing for the first time in 10 days for about an hour on Saturday, much of it trying to get back their conditioning, which, according to Richt, was surprisingly impressive.
Richt and UM deputy director of athletics Jenn Strawley said about 25 football players and 10 other UM athletes from various sports, boarded buses with coaches and family members and administrators on Sept. 7 to head to Orlando to avoid Irma. Florida Citrus Sports came through big by organizing lodging for the Canes at a very fair price, they said, and over the next week, about 80 players from various sports had come through Orlando. By this past Friday night, the rest of the more than 100 football players had joined their teammates to prepare for their first practice since Sept. 5.
“The thing that was kind of the deciding factor for me,’’ Richt said, “was, I didn’t want to have a team in Memphis or Arkansas [for what eventually became the canceled Arkansas State game] while all heck is breaking loose with everybody’s family. I didn’t want my players to look at me like, ‘Coach, why are we here? …’
“I said, ‘That’s it. We’re out. Let’s break camp early.’ … It’s dangerous, to me, to play football if your mind is somewhere else.’’
The Canes (1-0), who moved up three spots to No. 14 in the AP rankings without even playing, will be in Orlando until they head back to Miami on Thursday to get ready for the 3:30 p.m. Toledo game Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“The first couple of days when we got back into running my legs were a little dead, felt a little bit fatigued,’’ safety Jaquan Johnson said. “But as we kept practicing, I could feel my body getting back readjusted. We looked good during sprints and during the whole practice [Sunday].’’
Johnson said he “stayed home in Miami’’ with his mother during the storm. “She didn’t want to evacuate,’’ he said, “so we just rode the storm out together, boarded up the house.’’
Johnson said he agreed with Richt’s decision to let his players disperse but give them the opportunity to stay together in Orlando.
“Letting us go home to our families, that just shows us how genuine he is,” Johnson said. “It’s more than football, it’s life. The house is fine. A couple trees knocked over. For the most part it could have been worse. We’re blessed.’’
Left tackle Kc McDermott was also with his family during the storm and was thrilled to reconnect with his teammates Friday in Orlando. “It shows the maturity of this team and how hard we worked during the summer,’’ he said of the Hurricanes maintaining their fitness levels. “I worked out for two days, ran around a lot, lifted trees, picked up branches. We did a lot of work around the neighborhood.
“We’ve come out here and we’ve been focused and that’s something that has impressed Coach Richt a lot. It has impressed me. It has impressed everybody.’’