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Hurricane Harvey touches UNLV football team in a personal way

Updated August 30, 2017 - 7:55 pm

Cedric Cormier remembers most Hurricane Alicia in 1983, the cyclone whose eye traveled up Interstate 45 from Galveston to Houston, causing $1.7 billion in damage and killing 21 people.

It was the worst Texas hurricane since Carla swept through in ’61, but neither were as disastrous as Harvey.

He’s the mother of all Texas tempests.

“Back with Alicia, we didn’t have power or cellphones or anything like that to communicate with the outside,” Cormier said. “So we just boarded up the windows and sat in a dark house for days. You know two things are going to happen in Houston at this time each year: You’re going to be playing football, and there is going to be some type of storm.

“But you also know they’re not going to run from it. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is or your economic background, people in Houston are going to respect and help one another. There’s a certain pride they have in Texas. If this was happening in Dallas, you would see the same thing. Everyone comes together.”

His attention, much like that of many involved with UNLV football, is split this week between the devastation created by Harvey and preparing for a season-opening game against Howard on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Between seeing images of catastrophic flooding breaching levies and dramatic rescues from boats and choppers to wondering how best to attack and stop a Football Championship Subdivision team from Washington, D.C.

UNLV will kick off a third year under head coach Tony Sanchez with a roster that includes five players from Texas, where Cormier as the Rebels wide receivers coach leads recruiting efforts and has landed some of the more productive talents in school history.

He is a Houston native who has seen all types and levels of storms, who knows as much about epic flooding across thousands of square miles as he does crossing patterns. Rivers rise and more rain falls, and the nightmare begins anew.

His parents live in Houston, as does his 17-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter and more cousins and extended family members and friends than he can count.

His father was born there, so to say the folks back home can see the water rising to the mailbox outside but that it hasn’t yet reached the house is something for which to give thanks.

The family wasn’t as fortunate with Hurricane Ike in 2008, when flooding did major damage to their home.

Ike was also a tough one, but is there another kind?

“Everyone in Houston has a hurricane story,” Cormier said. “Mom just prays a lot.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sanchez has again discovered how to address tragedy in one part of the country while helping his players understand it in this one. Maybe it’s that deep sense of respect for the military in his family, but Sanchez knows as well as any coach nationally how to put things in perspective and help young minds learn from awful times.

He has a team many believe could become bowl eligible this year, if a promising redshirt freshman quarterback produces and a questionable defense plays above its perceived weaknesses and the Rebels beat those teams over which they’re favored.

That’s all exciting stuff for a program with just one non-losing season since 2001, but such positive thoughts have at times this week been replaced with the dark and treacherous realities of Harvey.

“I showed some pictures before our special teams meeting, and you see one gentleman and he’s carrying two kids out,” Sanchez said. “There’s another picture of a police officer just exhausted laying on the floor after working a 12-hour shift.

“Man, I tell you what, the heroism and the camaraderie and just the humanity you see in these situations, it’s absolutely humbling. When we’re sitting there and we’re struggling to get a ‘W,’ you think about what those people are going through. It puts it in real perspective for us, so this is a great lesson for our young men to see and embody. When we say our prayer at the end of practice, we’ve been making sure we put that in the front of our thoughts.”

Lexington Thomas is a junior running back from Houston whose neighborhood back home has had some flooding but no major issues.

Some friends in other areas of town have lost their homes.

One lost her father.

“It’s terrible,” Thomas said. “I call my mom every day. I call my sisters and my brothers. I call them every day to see if they’re doing good and out of the rain. A couple of my friends are talking about the sun (being) out right now.

“Everything’s drying up.”

An encouraging thought in an otherwise wretched time.

More Rebels: Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJRebels on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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