The effects of Hurricane Florence will be felt around the state for weeks and probably months to come. But for the football teams at North Carolina, NC State and East Carolina, life has already returned to normal.
Or at least as close to normal as possible.
All three teams are back on the practice field preparing for their scheduled games Saturday after spending a stormy, unexpected week off riding out the devastating storm.
“This is totally abnormal for us because we haven’t practiced Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said. “So four days since these guys practiced.
“It’s an unforeseen break and we’ve got to turn it into a positive. It enabled some guys to maybe get healed up and get extra rest as we go (into) the rest of the season.”
Instead of playing Saturday against Central Florida, a team with the nation’s longest winning streak, UNC got a chance to step back, start over fresh after a disappointing 0-2 start and turn its attention to its ACC opener against Pittsburgh this week.
Like Fedora, NC State’s Dave Doeren and ECU’s Scottie Montgomery are also looking for silver linings to postponements that cost their teams high-profile nonconference matchups. The Wolfpack was scheduled to play a home game against West Virginia and the Pirates were washed out of a trip to Virginia Tech.
Now instead of getting an opportunity to showcase its program on national television against a highly ranked opponent, State will head onto the road for the first time to take on Marshall. ECU, meanwhile, will try to build on the momentum gained from its rout of UNC two weeks ago at American Athletic Conference rival South Florida.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s out of our control too, so you make the most of it,” Doeren said of the schedule interruption. “I told the players, ‘You try to find a positive in everything.’
“We were a little beat up at the time and it was really hot training camp. I think having that chance to kind of hit reset, catch up on our sleep and it was good for all of us.
I hate to look at a bad situation as a positive, but we did get something out of it. I think we made the best out of a bad situation.”
ECU had a more difficult time than UNC and State in making lemonade out of the lemons it was handed.
Because of its proximity to the coast and the uncertainty of Florence’s track as it made its agonizingly slow approach toward landfall, Montgomery and his team packed up on Tuesday and headed south.
They rode out out the in Orlando, Fla., much to the chagrin of Tech athletic director Whit Babcock — who took to Twitter to express his disappointment over the Pirates making the decision to cancel the game for him.
“At the end of the day, it was all about making sure that our kids were safe and that’s what we based it all around,” Montgomery said.
“This is something that’s a lot bigger than just a couple of Tweets. Our kids’ families were directly connected to (the hurricane) and our kids were directly connected to it. So that’s something that’s unfortunate that happened.”
While many of those at UNC and State were able be with their families during the worst of the storm, ECU’s players have had to resort to Facetime and texts to stay in touch with loved ones and monitor the goings on back home.
With school not reopening again until mid-week and a game in Tampa on Saturday, Montgomery has chosen to keep his team in Florida rather than disrupt it any more by trying to return to Greenville. The Pirates have been practicing at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and will travel to USF on Friday.
It’s an experience the coach called “a great team building situation.”
“We’re really excited to be able to play again,” Montgomery said. “These are football players and football players play football. When the lights come on, our guys will be ready to play. It’s a very, very unfortunate situation that we had to wait, but we’ve tried to use it to prepare ourselves even better for the game ahead.”
UNC and State have also had extra time to scout and prepare for their respective opponents. But they’ve also used the opportunity to begin searching for possible replacement opponents to make up for games lost to the hurricane.
For the Wolfpack, the options for adding a 12th game appear limited, especially since Doeren is reluctant to give up the bye his team had strategically scheduled on Oct. 13, the week before playing a pivotal Atlantic Division showdown against Clemson.
I would love to have a 12th game personally, but it has to fit what we want,” Doeren said. “It’s got to be the right team and you’ve got to find the right opponent that’s willing to come here. We want to play a home game if we do it obviously, but those conversations have started.”
The Tar Heels figure to be less selective in looking for an opponent to fill the void on their schedule, considering that they’ll probably need the extra opportunity to have any hope at becoming bowl eligible.
Their open date of Oct. 6 lines up with several other teams that had games cancelled last week, including Fedora’s former school Southern Miss and Furman.
As much as Fedora would like for his team add another game to its schedule, he said there are more important things to worry about in Florence’s aftermath.
“To be honest with you, we’re more worried about what’s going on right now across the state with the people that are being affected by the hurricane,” he said. “That’s really where all of our thoughts need to be. We do have to prepare for a football game this week against Pitt and we will do that, but there are a lot of people out there that are suffering.”