TUCSON--Redshirt freshman linebacker James Alford is a relieved young man on the eve of Arizona's game at Utah, and it has nothing to do with football.
The 18-year-old from New Orleans found out Wednesday night that his family, who endured Hurricane Katrina in the savage storm that slammed into the Gulf Coast late Monday, was safe. He had not heard from his mother, Carolyn, until Wednesday night. His father and brother, Ray and Ray Jr., also were unharmed in the Baton Rouge area, as was his grandmother.
"They're safe," he said Thursday. "We don't know anything about my mom's dream home (in eastern New Orleans), but that doesn't matter. It can be rebuilt."
Alford has a cell phone issued out of the New Orleans area, but it lost service after the hurricane struck and the communications infrastructure in the region was rendered inoperable. He had spoken with his mother Saturday, then got word from his brother that she was trying to evacuate the city Monday night. She turned back after getting bogged down in traffic as the devastating weather approached.
"When the eye was about to strike, she was in a closet upstairs, trying to ride it out," he said, then eventually joined the many displaced people trying to evacuate.
"It's a big relief to know they're okay, but I'm worried about the other people now," he said. Thousands of residents in the area are either missing or among the stream of evacuees still unable to make contact with friends and relatives. No one expects people who live in the area to be able to return to their residences for some time.
Alford, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2004, will accompany the UA team on its trip to Utah for Friday's game. He's contending for playing time at linebacker and on special teams.