Twin twisters moving at 200 mph destroyed or damaged more than half of Pilger. World-Herald Photos
Photo by Omaha World Herald

Husker Volunteers Assist in Pilger Relief

By NU Athletic Communications

 World-Herald Photo Gallery: Pilger Tornado Aftermath

 Randy York’s N-Sider

Moses Abraham has been in Nebraska only a month.  Melissa-Maree Farrington just finished her freshman season.  Courtney Love redshirted so he can focus on four full seasons ahead as a Nebraska linebacker.  Even though all three student-athletes are relative newcomers, they all fit Nebraska Athletics’ culture to volunteer and serve others

Exactly one hour after Nebraska coaches, staff and UNL officials boarded a bus at 6 a.m. Saturday to connect with the Big Red Express Whistle-Stop Tour across the state on Union Pacific rails, more than 50 Husker student-athletes boarded their own bus and headed 105 miles northeast to Pilger, Neb., so they can help nearly 370 Nebraskans whose village was recently almost wiped off the face of the earth.

Basketball’s Abraham Wanted ‘To Do Something’

“We hear about this a lot from where I'm from,” said Abraham, a 6-foot-9, 247-pound basketball center who is originally from Nigeria and began his collegiate career at Georgetown before transferring to Nebraska for his final season.  “I've never been in a situation where something has happened this close to me, so I felt like I should do something and it's an honor for me to go out this weekend.  It’s a chance to show my concern and to make a contribution to the community.”

Farrington, who competes in the heptathlon for Nebraska’s women’s track and field team, is a native of Australia.  “I’ve never really experienced tornadoes, and I can’t imagine people going through something like that,” she said.  “This is one day in my life where I can help people who have lost everything.  It’s really unexplainable.  I just know that if something like that happened to me, I’d want someone to help me.  Even though we’re total strangers, I want to show them how much we care.  You can see in people’s eyes what it means.  Watching what happened is a wakeup call for all of us.”

Love One of 20 Husker Football Players in Pilger

When Love saw video of two terrifying tornadoes ravaging Pilger and killing a five-year-old girl and a 74-year-old man, “the first thing that came into my mind was that could have been any one of us,” he said.  “So many of those in the tornadoes were wearing red because they support Nebraska and our football team.  As soon as I heard about the tornadoes, I just wanted to go out and help them in any way I can.  I want to make a big difference helping them clean up what we can and give back to all of those people who support us and appreciate us.  I want to help brighten their day.”

Love is not alone.  Nineteen of his Husker teammates also volunteered, giving football the largest contingent of any Nebraska sport making the trip to Pilger.  Wrestling ranked second with 15 volunteers.

Student-Athletes Bringing Vital Items on Bus

Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills, will honor his commitment to ride Union Pacific’s rails Saturday to meet and thank Husker fans in stops at Columbus, Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte.  Life Skills coordinators Stacey Burling and Jordan Wilson have helped Zimmer lead the charge to fill the bus with student-athletes and items that will be donated Saturday to help in the aftermath – hats, shoes, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen, insect repellant, and much more.

 “Within an hour after we sent an email, we received two bins filled with new items in our office,” Zimmer said, pointing out that the person carrying them was Barrett Ruud.  Nebraska’s all-time tackle leader and an eight-year NFL veteran, Ruud will serve as a Nebraska football intern this season.

“It may be cliché, but Nebraskans know there’s no place like Nebraska because we rally around each other.  Our fans support us, and we support them,” Zimmer said.  “Another line that hits me on a weekend like this is we all stick together in all kinds of weather.  We didn’t have to convince any student-athletes to go to Pilger.  They organized and convinced us.  Saturday’s outreach was not calculated.  It grew on its own.”

Coach Manning Was Never More Enthusiastic

Ian Ousley, a junior redshirt wrestler from Saginaw, Mich., is a catalyst for the trip to Pilger.  He helped recruite 14 teammates to join him and others on a priority effort to reach out.  “We value outreach in our culture, and we want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Ousley said.  “When natural disasters like Pilger happen, we know we can make a profound difference. 

“It was kind of a no-brainer for all of us.  When I talked to Coach (Mark) Manning about sponsoring an event like this and pulling it off, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him more enthusiastic," Ousley said.  "What it shows is our entire team buys into the idea of giving back to the community.  I think it reflects the kind of guys we recruit.  I talked to all of our incoming freshmen, and if some of them weren’t committed to new student enrollment, our whole freshmen class would have been a part of this relief effort.”

Two Husker wrestlers will drive to participate in the outreach event – Eric Coufal, a native of Howells, Neb., and Alex Metzler, who will spend the weekend at his home in Tekamah, Neb.  One new Husker, Colten Vahle, a member of the Nebraska track and field team, lives in Pilger and will meet his fellow Huskers on his home ground of what is mostly leveled houses.

Theriot: Tornado Victims are ‘Never Alone’ 

 “It’s now time to support our Nebraska family just like they’ve supported us,” said Dawna Tyson, a junior infielder on Nebraska’s softball team from Corona, Calif.  “There was no doubt in my mind.  As soon as I heard about the tornadoes, I was ready to volunteer.  We just hope we can make a difference for the Pilger victims.  Whether it’s big or small, we just want to give our hands to them.”

Rachel Theriot, a junior from Middleburg Heights, Ohio, is a quiet leader, even though she is a First-Team All-Big Ten basketball guard, the 2014 Big Ten Tournament MVP and an honorable mention selection on the 2014 Associated Press All-America team as a sophomore.  “I want to give back to Nebraska for everything they’ve given to me, whether that’s been by supporting me in basketball, in school, or in giving me a second place to call home,” Theriot said.  “This is a way for me to show others in the community that I’m thankful for what they’ve given me.  I just want to show the people out there that they have our support and we want to help them.  I want them to know that they’re never alone.” 

Update: Take a look at some of the Huskers tweets during their time in Pilger.

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