MOORE — Nothing can take away the feeling of home. Not even a tornado.
As the wind whipped across the turf and large dark clouds hung overhead on Tuesday, the sounds of whistles and airhorns were joined by the buzz of construction tools at the Southmoore football team's practice.
It was the SaberCats' first official practice since May 20, when an EF-5 tornado broke the foundation of so many houses and turned the football players into a cleanup crew that helped their hurting community.
Southmoore is already starting to recover, grow and learn from that.
Among the more than 80 players who practiced on Tuesday evening until nearly 9:30 p.m. were 22 who lost their homes to the tornado. In honor of them and the city of Moore, the team practiced with navy blue helmets featuring a small decal: An outline of the state of Oklahoma and the letters “OK.”
Two SaberCats who are still affected by that devastation are freshman safety Gervarrius Owens and senior tight end Brandon Garrison.
Every day, Owens drives in from Norman while Garrison drives from Mustang — their new residences.
Their houses once stood in Moore. Neither of them believed they lost almost everything until they saw those houses wiped from their foundations.
Since May 20, their team and community stepped in.
“They've given us so much,” Owens said. “It's just a real blessing. It was a real shocker to have everything and then go to absolutely nothing.”
Said Garrison: “They did everything. They gave us food, they gave us money. They gave us clothes. They even offered us a place to stay or if we wanted to talk. They became more family through this situation than I realized they were before.”
Moore is just starting to rebuild, and so is the Southmoore football team. Out of the three Moore public high schools, Southmoore's students and staff were left with the worst from the tornado's devastation.
And the SaberCats started their practice talking about rebuilding.
“Everybody can start,” running backs coach Spencer Braggs said. “Who's gonna finish? It's about foundation. Lay that foundation today. We start today.”
Off they went. It wasn't a pity-party practice. It was just football. Head coach Jeff Brickman ran his players as close to full speed without pads as he could get them.
But it didn't start as a normal practice. A television station placed a mic on Brickman's gray “Carpe Diem” shirt. Everything he said for the first 20 minutes of practice was recorded.
The crew that ran the cameras that recorded practice was worried midway through about the clouds above.
“I felt a raindrop,” one said.
Southmoore's athletic trainer assured them the closest storm was two hours northwest, but there was a temperature drop of more than 10 degrees from the start of practice to the end.
The SaberCats ran through offensive and defensive schemes, drilled and ran plays as couples walked their babies and others ran for a workout around the track that frames the field.
From the bleachers, blue tarps on houses were visible. A parent watching practice wore her “Moore Strong” shirt. Less than a half mile north were the letters “HOPE” stuck into a metal fence.
In the end, it was a healing community and a healing football team having a football practice complete with consequences, instructions, yelling coaches and adjustments.
“Today was great, seeing people with smiles on their faces instead of frowns and worries,” Owens said. “When you get on a football field, you really don't think about anything. It's kind of like home.”