Senior running back Kolby Kelleher and his family are living in a hotel these days.
Kelleher’s house in Summerland Key, located about half an hour from Key West High School, is uninhabitable after it was flooded and its roof was torn off by Hurricane Irma.
So is senior defensive back Damian Alvarez’s house not too far away in Rockland Key, about four miles from Key West.
A pair of large pine trees came crashing down on his parents’ bedroom and another tree near his room causing irreparable damage to his home.
So on Tuesday the simple elation of scoring a touchdown or breaking up a pass came as a welcome respite for both, who along with the entire Key West football team, are still picking up the pieces a month since the storm’s onslaught on September 10.
“We were rusty, but we were so ready to get out on that field again,” Kelleher said. “I was pumped for sure.”
Playing their first game since September 1st, the Conchs (3-0) remained unbeaten following a dominant 48-13 victory over host La Salle in Coconut Grove.
Key West isn’t the only school slowly returning to normalcy.
Marathon and Coral Shores (located further north in Tavernier), played their first game since Hurricane Irma this past Friday – against each other. Marathon prevailed 43-28.
“The camaraderie between the two teams was great that night along with the fans,” Coral Shores coach Alphonso Bryant said. “Both communities really banded together to support each other.”
La Salle raised $3,000 in donations recently for relief efforts and presented a check in that amount to Key West’s players after the game’s coin toss.
Key West, which fields a roster of 34 players on varsity and 35 on junior varsity, couldn’t practice for over a week after the storm.
A day after the first practice, several players and coaches jumped on a team bus and made stops at houses in the nearby area to help victims of the storm.
“We aren’t very skilled at that, but we figured we could at least move some things out of the way,” said Key West coach John Hughes, the nephew of former Booker T. Washington and Hialeah-Miami Lakes coach Jerry Hughes. “We hit about seven or eight houses that day and went to practice. It was very rewarding and the guys need to see and support the community that has supported them for so long.”
Kelleher said he found his house flooded with about four feet of water after the storm. Kelleher said he’s planning to move into the house of a friend of his family soon.
Alvarez, who said he might enroll at the Naval Academy for college, said he was preparing for the worst to happen to his house. He said his parents plan to have a new house built in that area, but he doesn’t know how long he and his family will have to live in a hotel.
“I was kind of shocked because I wasn’t expecting that much, but all the trees fell and the backyard was all messed up,” Alvarez said. “I had a lot of memories in there especially of my little brother because he grew up there.”
Alvarez said he drove by himself back to his house from Sunrise once the roads opened up again in the days following the storm.
“Stuff was all over the road,” Alvarez said. “It was devastating to see houses that were once on one side of the road on stilts ended up on the other side.”
Key West JV coach Rick Cleaver believes the long-term effects on the Conchs’ program won’t be known for some time. But he believes the team just like many in the Keys will persevere through this situation.
“We’re tough, resilient people in Key West,” Cleaver said. “[Key West] is our heaven. We’re going to do whatever we can to get back on our feet.”