As Hurricane Matthew tore through the Caribbean and zeroed in on the East Coast last week, Missouri senior wide receiver Chris Black braced for impact more than 1,000 miles away.
Black is one of four Tigers players from Jacksonville, Fla. — which is dealing with substantial flood and wind damage from the Category 5 tropical storm that killed at least 27 people in the U.S. and more than 1,000 overall, mostly in Haiti — on the 2016 roster.
There’s precious little anyone could do — aside from evacuate — ahead of the storm’s path, but it made for some nervous days as Black fretted for family back home.
“I was a little worried,” Black admitted Monday during Mizzou’s weekly media day. “I was FaceTiming my mom back-and-forth just making sure she was OK.”
The same was true for sophomore quarterback Marvin Zanders, sophomore defensive lineman Spencer Williams and sophomore wide receiver DeSean Blair.
Blair, who was not made available to speak with the media Monday, tweeted photos Saturday of damage to his family’s home.
It made for an uneasy bye week for Mizzou, which is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference after a 42-7 loss Oct. 1 at LSU.
First-year coach Barry Odom did his best to keep his players’ minds at ease.
“You always have to be aware, when you look at a roster full of 115 guys,” he said. “You need to know where they’re from and what their families are going through. Even though they’re not in it, there’s a mental toll it takes on you when your family is going through something and you can’t do anything about it.
“You feel helpless to an extent, but also want to make sure that you provide everything that those guys need to help them go through the process of a tragedy like what’s taken place.”
Fortunately, none of the Tigers players’ families are dealing with more than property damage.
“We’ve been keeping up with it all week,” Black said. “ … (Blair’s) family lives a little closer to where the most impact was … but everybody’s fine.”
That should make preparing for a game against Florida on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., which only an 80-minute drive from Jacksonville, easier for Black and company — except in one respect.
Black’s allotment of four tickets each player receives for family or friends went quickly, so he’s trying to scare up close to 30 tickets for the game.
“Man, (I’m asking) the whole team,” he said. “I promise — the whole team. … I’m working, man.”
Mizzou hoped its bye week would provide an edge compared with Florida in game-planning for the SEC East divisional battle, but Hurricane Matthew also canceled the Gators’ scheduled matchup last weekend against LSU.
Effectively, both teams are coming off a bye, and the Gators announced Monday that quarterback Luke Del Rio will return for the team’s homecoming game after missing part of the last three games because of a sprained left knee.
“It sounds like they’ve been able to practice and carry on like you would in a normal week, so I don’t know at what point they decided to play or not to play the game,” Odom said. “Then, who knows when they transitioned over into preparation for us? I know that we got a lot of really good work in last week.”
Odom was still happy with the timing of his team’s open date and expects to see progress in another tough SEC road contest.
“I sure hope,” Odom said when asked if the bye provides a competitive advantage. “I’m counting on it. I feel like there is today because we’ve had really good work and we’ve gotten more reps. Usually more repetitions in practice and more time to study video and more time to game plan — I hope we’re a better football team. … I sure think we are.”