Najee Toran watches the coverage of Hurricane Harvey more than 1,500 miles away from the devastation and feels overwhelmed by the images of water rising to the roofs of homes and families being forced to evacuate.
That’s his city.
Toran, one of two Houston natives on UCLA’s football team, is trying to stay focused on the Bruins’ season opener against Texas A&M on Sunday, but is also keeping one eye on his hometown as it deals with flooding from Harvey.
“Watching it is not a good thing, it doesn’t make me feel good, but at the end of the day, I’m here, there’s nothing I can do about it,” the offensive lineman said. “All I can do is pray to God, make sure that he takes care of everybody.”
Every morning, Toran calls his family, checking on his parents, sisters and brother. They live in east Houston and did not evacuate before the storm, but they are on higher ground so they remained safe despite flooding in the area. He said he wants to be with them, but knows he has business to take care of in Westwood.
Toran and safety Will Lockett are UCLA’s only Houston natives and their families are both safe. The team has several other Texas-based players and every morning, when the team shows up for meetings or practice, the Texans check with each other to make sure their families are still safe.
Texas A&M will wear special helmet stickers during Sunday’s game at the Rose Bowl that feature a hurricane symbol, the outline of the state of Texas and a red heart over Houston. UCLA said it will hold a fundraiser.
Encouraged by a campaign started by Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, the UCLA men’s basketball team is sending boxes of UCLA shirts and shoes to the area, the team posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
Among the images of flooded homes and displaced families, Toran also sees those of first responders arriving from Louisiana and Oklahoma to help his hometown. Those give him a sliver of peace in the chaos as he looks forward to getting UCLA’s season underway.
“Ready to get to it,” Toran said as a smile stretched across his face.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters Tuesday that he would not publicly announce a starting quarterback before Sunday’s game, leaving UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to prepare for each of the Aggies’ three starting options.
The Bruins have to split their scouting time between senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond. It…