- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Evangel has been unscathed by Katrina. The Eagles' coaches--one of whom called Joe "one of the best athletes to ever walk on this campus"--offer to let Joe play running back and wide receiver. He'll be the school's new star.
In their season opener the Eagles face the Texas High Tigers of Texarkana. Joe takes the opening kickoff down the sideline and widens his stride. A defender rushes up, and Joe swats him like a bad puppy. But when Joe is pushed out-of-bounds inside the 15, he twists his ankle and does not return the rest of the night. The Eagles lose 45-10.
A week later the Eagles lose big again, 52-14 to the Longview (Texas) Lobos. But Joe leads his new team in rushing, catches three passes and scores a touchdown.
Displaced students are being told not to wait for their schools to reopen and to enroll wherever they can. This is a frightening scenario for a small, tuition-funded school like John Curtis, which can't afford to lose students. J.T. and his sons have visited the school, which sustained only minor wind damage. Members of the Curtis family had evacuated to various cities across the South, but they have now converged on four apartments in Baton Rouge. They phone, e-mail and text-message students to tell them that school will reopen on Sept. 26, with football practice resuming a week earlier.
J.T. has no idea how many players have received his e-mails and text messages. On the afternoon of the 19th the John Curtis coaches wait nervously on the practice field. By the 2 p.m. start time fewer than 50 players have trickled in--less than half the team. J.T. calls them into the gym and tells them he's lined up a few games, the first of them this Friday night. Looking around at his nervous, wide-eyed players, he stops. "You know," he says, "with all this stuff going on, I forgot to tell you guys . . . I love each and every one of you."
He walks to the nearest player and throws his arms around the startled kid. Then he turns to the next player and swallows him in a bear hug, too. By the time he's gotten halfway around the circle, the kids are hugging each other, a few of them in tears. "This is not just a football team, not just a school--it's a family," J.T. says. "Remember that every day of the season."
The next day more players make it to practice, including a few new transfers.
A week later Joe is reunited with his Patriots.
Two weeks earlier J.T. had finally reached Joe by phone and repeated the offer to let Joe live with him. He told Joe that another player, Jonathan (Tank) English, whose home was flooded, was moving in too. But Joe said he planned to stay at Evangel.
J.T. then handed the phone to his son-in-law, Tommy Fabacher, who coaches the Patriots' defensive backs and, as the team's weight trainer, has spent many hours with Joe. Though Joe exudes a stoic confidence most of the time, Tommy knew the scared teenager side of Joe, having seen him fly into rages and berate himself. On the phone Tommy said, "If you stay at Evangel because you're running away from your life, and if you think by running it's all gonna go away, then you're making the wrong decision."