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Gators Shift Schedule, Offer Assistance to Families In Wake of Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian largely avoided the Gainesville area but greatly impacted southwest and central Florida, with several families of Gators players in the storm's path.

Photo credit: Andrew West-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Florida Gators are moving forward in preparation for their Week 5 contest with the Eastern Washington Eagles in the wake of Hurricane Ian, with Alachua County making it out of the typhoon largely unharmed.

The matchup was postponed by 24 hours on Tuesday, UF announced, ahead of Hurricane Ian coming ashore as a Category 4 storm near Cayo Costa, Fla. early Wednesday afternoon. At the time Hurricane Ian made landfall, 2022's ninth tropical cyclone was sustaining winds at 150 miles per hour, five short of being considered a Category 5.

By Thursday morning, the storm's overnight eastward shift through the state had proven to spare Gainesville from significant damage, rainfall and flooding that the area had prepared for initially.

Napier shared on Wednesday night, however, that based on the storm's shift throughout the day, over a dozen UF players had families that were expected to be in areas of considerable impact. 

The program is actively assessing each situation and intends to help those families in any way it can, with the GatorMade program and senior director of student-athlete development/alumni relations Venrell Brown Jr. heavily involved in those efforts.

"We asked the players earlier in the week to kind of keep us up to date relative to potential issues," Napier said. "As the storm has moved, we have 15 or 16 guys on the team that have families that might get heavy exposure, some of which have already evacuated or whatever the case may be. 

"So I think a lot of this will be post-storm. We'll see what kind of damage we have. I think that's where we really can assist the families as an organization."

Post-storm relief efforts began in southwest Florida on Thursday morning while Ian continued to trudge northeast, reaching the Atlantic Ocean in the early afternoon and beginning to flood areas just south of Jacksonville, Fla. after wrecking central areas of the state overnight.

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United States President Joe Biden foreshadowed that Ian "could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history" following a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing on Thursday. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described the storm as a "500-year flood event."

The team sheltered on Wednesday night after practice was moved up by an hour, and was given the day off on Thursday out of precaution should the hurricane have remained on a track through north-central Florida. 

Given the area's avoidance of damage, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe announced that seven community builders will join the Regional Urban Search and Rescue effort in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, along with officers from Ocala and Marion County.

Due to the postponement of this week's game, the Gators were able to shift their schedule by a day without sacrificing preparation for the matchup. In fact, Napier believes the modified schedule can be advantageous as things pertain to player recovery from practice.

"We'll kind of proceed with our schedule [on] Friday, Saturday, Sunday like Thursday, Friday, Saturday," Napier acknowledged. "So that's where we're at."

Naturally, Napier was asked at the time if he believed the storm would distract players from the task at hand in preparing to take on Eastern Washington on Sunday. While Napier and his staff have been proactive in offering players and their families applicable resources, he believes continuing to practice and prepare for the matchup can be beneficial.

"I think kids are sometimes more resilient than adults are, just to be quite honest," Napier proclaimed. "And, you know, I think this group, they enjoy practice, you know, they're competitors. I don't know that it's not a little bit healthy to some degree, to have something to do to stay on task. 

"And then obviously, we're doing everything we can do to help support them, in particular tonight. You know, Kelsee Gomes and Josh Thompson have worked extremely hard to provide resources for them, the training room. I mean, all parts of the organization here have kind of raised their level a little bit to support the players in this time. So, the number one thing at the top of the list here is the safety of our players and staff and the family. So, we'll turn the page here once the storm is through and focus on what's next."

Kickoff between the Gators and the Eagles is scheduled for noon ET on Sunday, October 2 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

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