The dogs were a surprise.
While quickly forming evacuation plans ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence, Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia and his coaching staff considered a myriad of contingencies:
Where to go – first from Conway, S.C., to North Carolina on Sept. 11 to play a game the next day, and then to St. Augustine, Fla., where they’ve been bivouacked since.
How to get there – five buses, along with a few trailing personal vehicles.
Who to take – an entire football team, along with coaches and support staff and their family members.
And their pets.
During that staff meeting Sept. 10, a hand shot up. Marvin Sanders, the Chanticleers’ defensive coordinator, had a question: “What about dogs?” And a little later, during a team meeting to explain the plans, a hand shot up. A player had the same question.
“I wasn’t planning on the dogs,” Moglia says. “But then I realized, dogs are like members of families. We can’t leave them behind by themselves – so let’s bring them with us.”
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It’s how Bus No. 5 in the caravan came to be the “pet bus,” and how Coastal Carolina’s traveling party of almost 200 people – players, coaches, support staff and families – came to include more than a dozen dogs, as well as a few cats and at least one fish.
“I thought the fish was to feed the cats,” Moglia says, “but that wasn’t the case.”
Joking aside, when Moglia likens the Chanticleers’ caravan to Noah’s Ark, it’s about more than the accompanying animals.
Since Sept. 11, when the buses pulled out of Conway, S.C., Coastal Carolina’s football program has been on the road. With the school’s campus closed, first in anticipation of Florence’s arrival and since then because of flooding in the area, the Chanticleers have been displaced.
They played Campbell last Wednesday afternoon – switching the game from Conway to Buies Creek, N.C., and moving it up three days – and then bused overnight to St. Augustine, Fla. They’ve spent the last eight days at the Renaissance Hotel at the World Golf Village.
They’ve practiced at three area high schools, changing clothes in their hotel rooms and busing 90 minutes roundtrip to each practice site. (One issue, according to freshman offensive lineman Jacob Porter: Despite his best efforts, the room he shares with another freshman player has begun to smell a little too much like a locker room.)
But it’s all part of adapting and adjusting to circumstances. It’s something Moglia tries to teach as part of the program’s culture, but it has taken on more urgency during a literal state of emergency.
“We don’t sit around and wonder what’s gonna happen, we figure it out and get it done,” says Moglia, adding that he’s been proud of the response from all involved. “The kids are a bit homesick. But No. 1, we know they’re safe. No. 2, they’ve been in regular contact with their families.”
The overarching goal for each decision, he said, was safety. Although the Conway area did not take a direct hit from the storm, the subsequent flooding remains a significant safety concern and is why the campus is expected to remain closed to student activity through Sept. 28.
Several players are from the region impacted by Florence. Porter, the freshman offensive lineman, is from Loris, S.C., about 45 minutes inland from Conway. He says he was “nervous” about leaving his family behind.
“They were about to get hit with this giant hurricane, and I’m taking off,” Porter says. “It was pretty stressful, especially when the storm was really hitting. I was texting them, ‘How’s the weather, is everyone OK?’ I knew they were safe.”
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His high school football and baseball fields were completely flooded – “It looks like a river,” Porter says – but although his family lost power for a day, they escaped significant damage or flooding.
“We got blessed,” he says, adding that he talks with his parents daily – a practice Moglia and staff have not required, but have strongly suggested to players while on this impromptu sojourn.
Coastal Carolina isn’t the only college football team that’s temporarily relocated; East Carolina has been practicing in Orlando ahead of a game Saturday at South Florida in Tampa. Hurricane Florence prompted multiple canceled or postponed games across the region, but the Chanticleers and Pirates have yet to return to their campuses.
“There’s no guaranteed playbook,” Coastal Carolina athletic director Matt Hogue says. “Every storm is different. You have to work through it.”
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