Tuesday March 17th, 2009

Kit Hughes worried the project might be a tough sell. For college football players, spring break is about the only no-strings-attached vacation on the academic calendar. So Hughes, N.C. State's director of football operations, was pleasantly surprised when three players and two graduate assistants volunteered to join him earlier this month on a service trip to the Mississippi coast.

Not long after they arrived, Hughes, defensive back Zach Powell, offensive guard Desmond Roberts, defensive tackle Wayne Crawford and graduate assistants Bobby Blick and Jeff Archer found themselves staring at a jungle in a neighborhood in Pass Christian, Miss. Their job: Tame the foliage so an elderly man could live in his home for the first time since hurricane Katrina battered the area in 2005.

"We cleared his property," Hughes said. "We're talking chainsaws, weed-eaters, axes, the whole thing. We just went to town."

Later, the N.C. State contingent hauled lumber and widened a road. It worked for Project Hope and Compassion, a small charity hosted by St. Ann's Catholic Church in Lizana, Miss. Hughes first heard about the project after a group from his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Maine, took a service trip to Mississippi. Hughes wanted the players who took the trip to understand the area still hasn't recovered from Katrina. "That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to go," he said. "For these kids, if they don't see it on the news or read about it in the newspaper, they think the problem is fixed."

The group is back in Raleigh and preparing for the start of spring practice later this week, but Hughes has even bolder plans for next year. He'd like to bring even more players for a similar service project. "The guys we just went with, there's no question in my mind that the six people who went this year will go back next year," Hughes said. "Already, we have a base. Now we just have to build on it."

Eventually, Hughes hopes other ACC football programs will join for group trips. He can envision dozens of college football players swooping into an area of need and helping while learning at the same time. "Ideally, down the road, it wouldn't just be us," Hughes said. "It would be us and Duke and [North] Carolina and Georgia Tech and Florida State. You'd make it more of a conference-based service initiative. Then you're making an enormous impact. ... It's definitely achievable."

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