MOORE — Darius Joseph kept stealing glances at the boy in the photo.
Snapped by an Oklahoman photographer nearly eight years ago, the picture captured a 7-year-old who had been invited to a United Way breakfast after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He was sitting by his smiling mother. He was cutting into a pancake.
He is a young Darius Joseph.
“I tell you,” he said, “I've been on a trip.”
Has he ever.
Darius is now a junior at Southmoore High School, and Thursday night, he will be on the football field when the Sabercats open their season against Carl Albert. It's an opener like no other, coming less than four months after a tornado came with a few hundred yards of the school and tore a path through Moore that destroyed the homes of 22 players.
Among those players was Darius.
Yes, his home was hit by Hurricane Katrina and the Moore tornado.
Darius was living on the outskirts of New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina took dead aim for the city. He and his mom, Dawn, were renting an apartment in Harvey, La., on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
Along with his grandparents, they decided to evacuate and drove to Houston.
“We were more fortunate than people who stayed there,” Darius said. “We had options.”
They stayed in Houston for about a week as floodwaters filled much of New Orleans.
When they returned to their apartment, they found that it hadn't been flooded like much of the city. But once inside, they discovered that the hurricane's winds had ripped off part of the roof. Darius's room was fine, and everything in it was right where it had been when they left. But just across the hall, Dawn's room was wrecked.
Even with the damage, they planned to stay in Louisiana. That was where their family was. That was home.
Then Dawn found out that her job was being relocated. She had worked for The New Orleans CityBusiness, a business newspaper in town, and with the storm, the parent company was relocating employees to other papers that it owned.
Dawn could work in Oklahoma City at the Journal Record or in Long Island, N.Y.
She chose to stay as close to New Orleans as possible. Dawn and Darius first rented an apartment in Oklahoma City for a year, then went looking for a rent house and found one in Moore.
Having been in Moore since fourth grade, Darius considers it home.
But earlier this year, he changed addresses. Fights between his mom and stepdad had become more frequent and more intense, and in February, Darius finally had enough.
He ran away.
He didn't go far, though. He moved in with his friend and football teammate Brandon Dick and his family. Their blue house at the end of the cul-de-sac on South Harvey Avenue became a refuge.
Darius didn't have a bedroom of his own — he slept on the floor in Brandon's room — but none of that mattered.
“Everything was good,” Darius said.
Then came the afternoon of May 20.
Darius was in one of the computer rooms at Southmoore watching football film when tornado sirens began to sound. He and hundreds of other students hunkered down at the school as a tornado passed only a few blocks north.
His mom's house was spared by a couple blocks.
The Dicks' house was not.
If not for the car that remained in what was left of the garage, Darius wouldn't have even recognized the house. The power of the storm amazed him, but so did the randomness.
They found the washing machine.
“The dryer can't be too far away,” Darius thought.
All of his clothes just happened to be in the dryer, left there after he'd done laundry the day before the storm. But the partner to the washer was nowhere to be found.
“What kind of luck do I have for the washer to still be here and the dryer to fly away?” he said.
With all that has happened to him — Hurricane Katrina, family troubles, the tornado — it would be easy for Darius to be sad or frustrated or down right bitter. And there have been times when he's been all of those things; the day of the tornado, he remembers balling up his fists and fuming, “You took my new home from me.”
Darius is facing a new challenge as well. He might be taken out of the Dicks' home — they have a new home only a few blocks west of the school — because they aren't his permanent guardians. They are working to change their status so he can avoid being sent to live with family in Louisiana or California.
But even amid tragedy and turmoil, Darius chooses to be happy.
Chooses, too, to focus on football.
He only started playing as a freshman, so the past two years have been a learning process. Now, he expects to return punts and play cornerback for the Southmoore varsity.
“Nobody's going to take me down,” he said. “I have all this confidence.”
And why not? His team has come through a storm. He has come through two.
Even though Darius Joseph is only 15 years old, he marvels at all that has happened in his life. That's why that photo of him at 7 years old was so riveting. He'd never seen it before the interview for this piece — my research turned it up — and he immediately wanted to keep it.
It reminds him of where he's come from and what he's come through.
“I've got a lot ahead of me,” he said. “But I am proud.
“I have done plenty of livin'.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.