Four Kent State players leave this afternoon for an unlikely journey to help their season-opening opponent.
Quarterback Spencer Keith, defensive tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, defensive end Lee Stalker and running back Jacquise Terry will arrive in Tuscaloosa, Ala., tonight to aid Habitat for Humanity in rebuilding homes for those lost during the tornado in April.
"I thought it was a really good idea to help them out in a time of need," Keith said. "I know the tornado really devastated a lot of people there. I'm from about six hours away in Arkansas and I can kind of tell what they're going through because we had some tornadoes back in April."
The idea to make the trip was kicked around earlier this summer by Kent State athletic director Joel Nielsen, Gregg Floyd, the vice president for finance and administration, and Dave Ruller, the Kent city manager, after seeing the devastation in Tuscaloosa and knowing that they would be making the trip there for the season opener on Sept. 3.
The group approached coach Darrell Hazell, who picked four of his team leaders to take on the mission. While Keith, the starting quarterback, is from Little Rock, the devastation hits a little closer to home for running back Jacquise Terry, who is from Phenix City, Ala., which is about 200 miles away from Tuscaloosa.
Defensive linemen Kitchen and Stalker are from Pennsylvania and Ohio respectively.
Kent State and Alabama's game isn't the only reason Kent State decided to help. Alabama coach Nick Saban was a defensive back at Kent State and also served as the team's GA and defensive assistant from 1972-76. His foundation, Nick's Kids, which he started with his wife, Terry, has paired with Habitat for Humanity to help a family in Holt, Ala., that was displaced. The Kent State players will hlep with that home.
Alabama and Auburn also are slated to help with the project.
Saban, who will be speaking at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., on Friday, will meet with the Kent State later that day. Kent State players will spend Friday building and then host a youth football clinic Saturday for underprivileged kids in the Holt area who were displaced because of the storm. The foursome, who will be accompanied by Kent State assistant athletic director for communications Alan Ashby, fly back to Kent on Sunday.
"I haven't done anything like this before, so it will be a good new experience for me," Keith said. "I have no experience building a house. I'm handy, but whatever they tell me to do, I'll do it.
"I think just knowing that we as a group were able to help some families out in a time of need and hopefully make them feel a little better about things and their community."