LAFAYETTE - The last time Tyrell Gaddies played football in his hometown of New Orleans, he was 15 and less than 48 hours away from a catastrophic event that would forever change his life.
Hurricane Katrina was rapidly blowing northward in the Gulf Of Mexico, aiming at Gaddies’ Treme neighborhood, as he hastily climbed into a family vehicle and bid the city an unsentimental farewell.
In less than a week, Gaddies, a senior University of Louisiana at Lafayette defensive lineman, finds it perhaps providential that he plays the last snaps of his college career in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, several traffic lights from where he once lived.
The Dec. 17 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl game between ULL (8-4, 6-2) and San Diego State puts the past several years in perspective, says Gaddies, who finished his high school career in Houston.
Since Katrina, Gaddies said most of his family members have returned to New Orleans, living in a house off North Rampart Street, close to his former neighborhood.
“To have been (living in New Orleans), have Katrina happen, then go to Houston, go to JUCO, and now I get to come back home and play my last collegiate game a mile away from my birthplace, that’s God telling me that he had something planned for me a long time ago,” Gaddies said Wednesday.
Gaddies said his last contest in New Orleans was a jamboree game against Brother Martin, at City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium when he was a sophomore tight end at Kennedy High School.
Later during that 2005 season, Gaddies was playing for Eisenhower High in Houston, before signing at Kansas’ Coffeyville Community College.
Gaddies said his journey since leaving New Orleans in 2005 has been unusual, but its path will come to a suitable ending when he plays in the Cajuns’ first bowl game since 1970.
“Every journey has a story, but the one that I’ve been on, I’m more than thankful for,” Gaddies said. “Look what I’m about to do. I’m about to play in front of my home crowd and it’s basically my path back home in my last game. I don’t put on collegiate pads anymore after this game.”
Gaddies remembers well his sudden departure on a day that he initially thought would be filled with more football.
“We were about to go watch another jamboree the next day with Carver High, and my father came in and said that it was time to go. We weren’t waiting any longer,” Gaddies said.
“I left in the car and without my luggage, thinking I would be back. Come to find out, we weren’t coming back.”
Getting from New Orleans to Houston wasn’t that easy for Gaddies’ family, he said.
Stopping to fill the vehicle’s tank west of New Orleans, Gaddies said his family was aided by a sympathetic Baton Rouge gas station attendant, who gave them some free gas to help them travel further, he said.
After ULL ended the season at Arizona on Nov. 26, accepted the bowl invitation and then waited for an opponent, Gaddies said the past couple of weeks have been emotional for the Cajuns.
Until Wednesday’s full practice, Gaddies said the Cajuns have spent time with light workouts, weightlifting routines, studying for final exams and giving the younger players more repetitions.
Gaddies said the team worked hard this season to obtain a bowl invitation for first-year coach Mark Hudspeth.
“This season has been a success, but the coaches could see that this was a team that had some fire in their eyes. We put a lot of work into this,” said Gaddies.
Gaddies said he doesn’t think ULL’s lack of bowl experience creates a disadvantage against San Diego State, which won last year’s Poinsettia Bowl against Navy.
“It’s really like going into the battle blindfolded, but once you see the opponent, it’s punches. You get the nervousness out and just play football,” he said.
Going to the Big East
San Diego State’s big story Wednesday was the announcement that the school is joining the Big East Conference beginning in 2013-14.
The Aztecs will join other Mountain West member Boise State as a new Big East school.
Hudspeth said the Cajuns will not practice today or Friday because of exams. He said bowl intensive practices resume from 10 a.m. until about noon on Saturday .
The Cajuns are scheduled to arrive in New Orleans between 2 and 4 p.m. Tuesday. ULL practices in the Superdome the following two days before working out at the New Orleans Saints facility on Friday.
Hudspeth said the team’s bowl headquarters are at the Canal Street Marriott Hotel.