Toby Weathersby gassed up his truck Sunday night and all but pointed it down I-10 toward Houston, toward home.
To heck with football. To heck with school. Floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had his mother trapped in her second-floor apartment in north Houston. Worse yet, Weathersby’s grandparents were trapped in their home as well, vehicles flooded, refusing to get in a boat and be ferried out of harm’s way.
Weathersby had to fight the urge to do … something. He was, in his own words, “fixing to be stupid.”
There’s a sign on the road from Weathersby’s part of Houston heading toward downtown that he said reads, “Be someone.” He wanted so badly to be that someone to come to his family’s rescue. In the end, he kept his truck and its topped-off tank in Baton Rouge and did the hardest thing there is to do at times like these.
He did nothing.
“I had to come to the realization that I had to leave that up to the professionals,” Weathersby told reporters Monday as Harvey’s rain saturated the LSU campus. “I wanted to (go) so bad. I just sat down and just thought about the situation and what I was going to be putting myself in. At the time, I wasn’t worried about school or nothing. I was worried about getting there, getting my people and bring them back here until everything dies out.”
Weathersby got in touch Sunday night with his grandparents by phone. They tried to minimize the risk, to try to put his mind at ease, but he was having little of it.
“I talked to them before I went to bed,” he said. “They were like, ‘(We’re) going to be all right.’ I think they’re telling me that because I’m so far away and they know I’m here and they’re my other lifeline. They’re telling me one thing, but I already know. I know the situation, know the neighborhood and how bad it gets over there (when it floods).
“I know they don’t want to leave. It’s kind of hard. If I was there, I’d literally drag them out of there, pick them up and take them. Right now, I can’t do anything. I can just wish and pray everything will be all right.”
Adding insult to Weathersby’s anxiety is the bitter pill of knowledge that Saturday’s LSU-BYU game can’t be played at Houston’s NRG Stadium as scheduled because of the catastrophic amount of flooding there. Monday afternoon brought news that the game would be moved to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, still set to be played at 8:30 p.m.
“I was so excited to come home,” said Weathersby, a junior whom coach Ed Orgeron confirmed Monday will be the Tigers’ starting right tackle. “I know (now) I won’t be able to go home until December or January. It’s like, I won’t be able to see home. Wherever we move the game to (the announcement hadn’t been made when he spoke to reporters), I know my people won’t be able to make it, because highways are shut off or underwater. It’s a waiting process and wishing for the best.”
So Weathersby is left waiting for shreds of information to come over his phone that he can recycle into glimmers of hope. He goes to class. He practices, preparing for a big season after an injury-marred 2016 in which he started the first three games but played only in eight. And he compares notes with the other six players from Houston, players whose families as of early Monday afternoon were mostly faring better than his own.
Football, as sports often is for athletes in times of crisis, is a welcomed distraction.
“I’m able to put things aside when I come over here,” said Weathersby, adding that the support of his LSU football “family” has been huge comfort. “I’m at that age where I know what I’ve got to handle and (my family in Houston) know what I’ve got to handle, too. That’s why they haven’t been putting a lot of pressure on me telling me what’s really going on. I know when I come over here, I just have to, at some point in time, I’ve got to put it to the side and do what I’ve got to do here. Once I leave here, I’ll be able to take care of what I’ve got to do back home.”
Weathersby is doing the responsible thing for himself and his family. Had he tried to return to Houston, he would almost certainly have found nothing but blocked roads and frustration.
For now, though, that’s cold comfort as he waits for the floodwaters and time to slowly pass.