YSU Student-Athletes: Home Life on the Brain

By Chris Mcbride

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, The Jambar asked YSU football players how they and their families have learned and coped with the disaster.

Florida natives, senior junior college transfer Lasander Washington from Tampa, Fla.; freshman linebacker Jonathan Pollock of Orlando, Fla.; and junior defensive end Johnson Louigene from Immokalee, Fla. sat down to discuss their experiences in dealing with family caught up in Hurricane Irma.

Lasander Washington

Senior wide receiver Lasander Washington grew up in Tampa, Fla., in the Hillsborough County community.

The Tampa area, while largely unscathed by the storm, still had issues such as trees, power lines and signs being knocked down throughout the city.

Washington’s family ignored requests from city officials to evacuate to a nearby high school. Instead, his mother and father insisted on staying home to ride the storm out.

The power outages made contacting family a challenge for Washington, which was difficult for him.

“Normally [I] speak to my people every day to make sure they’re good,” Washington said.

Their only form of communication for the next two days would be a walkie-talkie app Washington’s mother used to stay in touch.

Apps like these became the most popular downloads on app stores during Hurricane Harvey and gained more popularity in Florida as Irma ripped through the state, allowing for families to talk to loved ones with the push of a button when connected to either cellular or Wi-Fi data.

“We just lost panels from our pool and it actually flooded, so my dad had to drain the pool mid-hurricane,” Washington said. “Other than that, my mom me told that there were palm trees everywhere but that’s about it.”

With the storm coming and going in a matter of days, Washington’s community banded together to help begin the recovery process. Washington said his father and a group of men in the neighborhood helped neighbors board their homes up and checked in with older residents.

Washington’s family and their neighborhood were fortunate enough to have minimal damages. They look to move on with life after the storm.

Jonathan Pollock

Freshman outside linebacker Jonathan Pollock is from Orlando, Fla. in the Orange County area.

Pollock and his family have been through many hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina.

“We got a lot of the harsh winds [and] rains from Katrina but my brother and I were actually playing Frisbee during it,” Pollock said, laughing.

This time around, the conditions of Irma kept Orlando residents inside with harsh winds and a curfew in place to keep people safe. Despite warnings to evacuate, Pollock’s family also decided to wait the storm out at home.

“My brother lives in Boca Raton and decided to stay because he’s been through storms before,” Pollock said. “You could just hear the wind in the background when I was FaceTiming them,” Pollock said.

Pollock managed to keep tabs on his family, friends and former teachers from back home, using Facebook in some cases, to make sure everyone was safe.

Fortunately for Pollock’s family, the storm only caused minor roof damage. Others, Pollock said, weren’t so lucky, with some friends having water up to their knees in their homes.

Johnson Louigene

Junior defensive end Johnson Louigene is a Florida native from the small farming town of Immokalee, Fla.

Louigene first got word of the storm as he watched the news in his dorm.

“Once they said the eye was going to pass over my town, I called my mom,” Louigene said. “I asked her if she needed anything, whether she was okay because a lot of the stores were closed so she couldn’t get what she needed.”

Louigene’s town has received some of the harshest damage from Irma with flooding plaguing most of his town. The destruction has left many Immokalee residents homeless.

With his mom, dad, aunts, uncles and other close family and friends thousands of miles away facing a difficult road ahead, communication was key.

“After the storm, all the power was knocked out and I was freaking out because I couldn’t get in contact with her [mom] and didn’t know what to do. I had never felt so helpless,” Louigene said.

Louigene described the toll it took on him to focus on his performance on and off the football field with everything going on as being a “bad week” for him mentally.

Once Louigene was able to talk with his mother again, he learned she and other close relatives had taken up shelter in a local elementary school.

Much like Pollock, Louigene is no stranger to hurricanes growing up in Florida but this particular storm gave him a new perspective.

“I wasn’t old enough to grasp how dangerous it was as a kid; sometimes during major storms we’d go out in play in the rain … I finally see the full seriousness of it and think of how stupid that was,” Louigene said.

Now, relief efforts have begun. Louigene has been trying to help those back home even from Youngstown, donating to food drives to do his part in helping his city rebuild.