FORT WORTH, Texas — Josh Rahman and the Rice football team were about 8,500 miles from their Houston campus, in a time zone 15 hours ahead, when they started to hear about a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico.
At first, they didn’t think much about the system that would become Hurricane Harvey.
“It escalated very quickly,” Rahman said. “Then we learned this thing is different.”
And now, even while back in Texas after playing their season opener in Australia, the Owls still feel a long, long way from home.
With the city of Houston overwhelmed by flooding from the catastrophic storm that is the heaviest tropical downpour in U.S. history, Rice’s 101 players are now based at a downtown Fort Worth hotel. They were going to TCU’s campus Wednesday for some running, stretching and weightlifting — their first football activity since getting back from Sydney, where they lost to 14th-ranked Stanford on Sunday afternoon, or late Saturday night Texas time.
“We all want to be back in Houston. We just can’t get there,” said Rice coach David Bailiff, whose team doesn’t play again until Sept. 9 at UTEP.
Bailiff is constantly in communication with his wife stuck at their home near a levee after floodwaters cut off access to get out of the neighborhood. Bailiff said the immediate family members for all his players and coaches are safe, though many did evacuate their homes.
“We have high anxiety and worry, but I also have a job to do taking care of these young men here,” Bailiff said. “I know my wife’s safe upstairs in the house. She’s dry. … She’s really handled it pretty dang good.”
While the Owls will work out at TCU, about a four-hour drive from their campus, the Houston Cougars have been in Austin since Friday, when they evacuated on the same day Harvey made landfall near Rockport, northeast of Corpus Christi, as a Category 4 hurricane.
The Cougars had been preparing at the University of Texas for their scheduled season opener Saturday at Texas-San Antonio, which they instead decided to postpone.
“We felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do in terms of where our city is,” first-year Houston head coach Major Applewhite said. “We have to focus on our families right now and get back some sense of normalcy.”
Like the Rice team that arrived Monday in Fort Worth, the Cougars don’t know how long they will remain away from the nation’s fourth-largest city. Rice left Houston for Australia on Aug. 20.
“This is bigger than football,” Cougars running back Dillon Birden said. “We’re ready to get back to our city and help our city.”
At least eight Rice players know their apartments or houses near campus have flooded, along with numerous vehicles, Bailiff said. Many of the players are unsure and worry they will also have significant water damage.
Bailiff said that when the Owls get back to Houston, they will “attack those apartments first as a team, and get those apartments cleaned out.”
Rahman, a senior defensive end for Rice, said it was stressful knowing his parents had decided to remain in their Sugar Land home near the Brazos River despite a mandatory evacuation because of flooding. He said he is frequently talking with them, and that no water had gotten into their home as of late Tuesday.
“First, because it was jet lag, I woke up at 1 a.m. (Tuesday). Wide awake. The first thing I did was call my mom,” he said. “They said it’s a little scary. … I think they’re doing well. They’re dealing with it the best possible way they can. Everyone here, the entire time, is dealing with it the best possible way they can.”
Rice linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee, whose parents were on the trip to Australia, remembers the mental toll his mother, who is from Louisiana, experienced when she had family members in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now he knows how she felt, watching from afar on television and social media what his family and friends are dealing with in Houston.
“Houston’s a really big part of me,” Ellerbee said. “You want to be somewhere where you can help and make a difference and contribute.”
AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.