Eric Greely Jr. emerged from Liberty’s football locker room a week ago, turned his palms toward the darkening sky and absorbed the heavy rainfall as it smacked against his face.
That’s when the memories came rushing back.
The rain, the flooding, the tropical storm that changed his life.
“I can’t lie,” Greely said. “It felt pretty familiar.”
Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina displaced Greely and his family from their New Orleans home. The Greelys moved to Baton Rouge for a couple of days, then on to Houston for a month before ultimately settling in Liberty — far, far away from tropical storms.
Or so they thought.
Hurricane Isaac, officially labeled a tropical depression, reached Kansas City last Friday night. Like many of his high school peers, Greely was out in the elements — playing a football game for Liberty High School.
A few minutes earlier than usual, he walked onto the William Jewell College football field — the site of Liberty’s second-week matchup with Raymore-Peculiar — and allowed the rain to drench his uniform.
“I remember I kind of laughed a little bit,” said Greely, a senior at Liberty. “When we moved here, we never thought a hurricane would touch here. All of a sudden, it affects us again.”
In more ways than one.
A year ago, Greely’s mother, Desha, moved back to New Orleans for her job. Eric Jr. lives in an apartment with his father, Eric Sr., who is an assistant principal at Liberty, and his brother and sister.
Desha spent Labor Day weekend in Liberty with her family— a visit she planned long ago — but she hopped on a plane a couple of days early as Hurricane Isaac approached Louisiana. Good thing, too. When she returned to New Orleans on Tuesday, she was greeted with a few of her own reminders of the storm from seven years ago.
“We had a large window broken out in the kitchen, and we had some shingles come off the top of the house,” Eric Sr. said. “No big deal.”
The Greelys have seen worse. Several weeks after Hurricane Katrina, they returned to New Orleans to assess the damage and found a wrecked home still holding 3 feet of standing water. They salvaged only a few pictures.
This storm clearly lacked the same intensity, and if it was at the forefront of Eric Jr.’s mind during the football game, it didn’t show. In a losing effort Friday night, he scored two touchdowns for the Blue Jays. He caught a touchdown pass for Liberty’s first score of the game and later added a kickoff return for a touchdown.
“I think I used it as a little bit of motivation,” Eric Jr. said. “But mostly I just had to block it out. I still had to play the game. Football has always helped me do that.”
Within a month of moving to Liberty, Greely’s parents enrolled their three kids in athletics.
For Eric Jr. — a 10-year-old kid too young to fully comprehend Hurricane Katrina’s effects — it provide a sense of normalcy. Football became his avenue to adjusting to a new life.
“With kids, if you get them back to what they’re used to doing, they’ll forget about the negative stuff,” Eric Sr. said. “That’s what happened with Eric.”
He’s never looked back. Eric Jr. has long loved football and has always been of the rare breed who actually prefers defense to offense.
He plays on both sides of the ball for Liberty, which coach Chad Frigon said has helped pique the interest of several schools. Frigon listed Tulsa, Northern Illinois and Wyoming as a few intrigued by his talent, though none has made official offers.
Some are attracted by his receiving ability, but most prefer him as a cornerback or safety, where he plays on Liberty’s defense.
“He has great athletic ability. He’s 6-1, 185 (pounds), and he has a great vertical (leap),” Frigon said. “And he’s the kind of kid that’s going to work hard to be successful. He’s committed to making himself better.”
At a young age, Eric Jr. figured his future would be centered around football, but the rest of his teenage years have been expected.
He’s moved on from Hurricane Katrina. He’s made new friends, some of whom don’t even know about his former New Orleans home. He prefers not to be defined by it.
The Greelys will move back to New Orleans in June, but Eric Jr. has no plans to join them.
“I think I’m better off now,” Eric Jr. said. “To be honest, I think I’m gonna stay up here. This is my home. This is my life. I don’t wanna leave.”