By Stan Caldwell
PRCC Sports Information
POPLARVILLE – Almost from the moment he was installed as head football coach at Pearl River Community College, David Saunders has insisted that his players be leaders off the field as well as on the field.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats put that philosophy into practice as a group of about 30 sophomores and other second-year players spent the day in St. Amant, La., helping clean up damage from the recent floods in the area.
“They’re awesome!” said Stephanie Lambert as she watched a group of players work on tearing down a damaged fence at her house and digging holes for new fence posts. “There is so much to do, and the fact that these guys came down here to help is unbelievable.”
Saunders said the initiative came about through an old friend that he went to church with when he was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I saw a need,” Saunders said. “I got an e-mail from a friend at my old church who was a former librarian here at the middle school. She said this area was devastated, and now seeing it, it just drives the point home how much help is needed.
“That’s what we do; when people are in need, we try to help them.”
Indeed, piles of debris from damaged houses lined virtually every roadway in St. Amant, located in Ascension Parish about 30 miles southeast of Baton Rouge.
“The water came up so fast, it was unreal,” said Myron Guidry, a firefighter with the St. Amant Fire Department, one of several places where the Wildcats spent the day working.
“Within about an hour, it started getting into the fire house. We went over to the high school, which was our second command center. After a bit, we decided to come back and try to salvage what we could, and we couldn’t get in; the water was already four feet high.”
Guidry said he finally got a day off on Monday after working for 11 days straight, rescuing trapped homeowners and helping protect their property. All he would say about his own situation was, “it’s not good.”
Wildcat players and coaches spread out through the Cypress Bend neighborhood in nearby Gonzales, checking on homes and offering whatever help was needed.
“It was sad, seeing the way people needed help,” said sophomore linebacker Randy Hogan of Pascagoula. “It feels good to come in and help these people out, because a lot of them don’t have anyone.”
And even those that did have some help welcomed the Wildcats with open arms.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Heidi Cheatwood, whose home took on approximately four feet of water and had to be completely gutted.
“We had some of my son’s teammates from the high school football team come over, but as you can see, there is just so much to do. (The Wildcats) are a godsend.”
And some Wildcat players were directly affected by the flooding. Redshirt freshman Leonard LeBranch said his girlfriend in New Orleans had to come in and rescue her aunt from her flooded home in Baton Rouge.
So when the call came for players to make the trip, he jumped on it.
“It does hit home,” said LeBranch, a defensive back from New Orleans. “But if we can help just a little bit, then that’s a positive.”
Although football was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind on Wednesday, LeBranch said he thought the work they did would pay dividends when the Wildcats tee it up next Thursday at Northeast Mississippi.
“It’s all about working together, trusting your teammates and building relationships,” said LeBranch. “This is a bonding experience, and I think it will help us when the season starts.”
Players and coaches helped carry out water-damaged furniture, knock down molding walls, pull out soggy insulation and carry off rubbish, all under a broiling-hot sun that left everyone covered in sweat.
But when it was all over, the tired Wildcats could look back on a job well-done.
“This was a good day,” said sophomore wide receiver Joronnie Hinton of Hattiesburg.
Pearl River wide receiver Joronnie HInton of Hattiesburg (left) and cornerback Tyler Jack of Lucedale pull together to tear out sheetrock Wednesday at the St. Amant Fire Station in St. Amant, La.
Pearl River running back Caleb Kinlaw of Goose Creek, S.C., hauls a flood-damaged door from the home of Brian and Heidi Cheatwood in St. Amant, La., where the Wildcats were helping clean up after the recent floods.
Pearl River head coach David Saunders leads the Wildcats in a prayer after a hard day of work helping clean up flood damage Wednesday at St. Amant, La.
(Photos by Stan Caldwell/PRCC Sports Information)