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November 13, 2012

Recent hurricane puts football into perspective for one Tech player

By: Jimmy Robertson

Sometimes it takes a natural disaster of epic proportions to put the sport of football into its proper perspective.

A few weeks ago, on the night of Oct. 29, most Tech fans fretted about the Hokies’ upcoming game against Miami, considering the team’s struggles this season. They worried over the offense’s play, they expressed anxiety about the defense going up against Miami’s talented backs, and they showed anguish about their team having only four wins heading into the month of November.

Meanwhile, Ryan Malleck, Tech’s starting tight end, went home after practice on that particular evening and watched coverage of Hurricane Sandy, the biggest Atlantic hurricane on record, with winds spanning 1,100 miles. His apprehension wasn’t about football, but rather, for his family, as the hurricane barreled directly toward his family’s home on the New Jersey coast.

His apprehension escalated, as prognosticators and experts predicted record storm surge, and his family’s home in Point Pleasant sits just a mile off the beach. Not one to panic, Malleck became a little worried because his parents had decided to ride out the storm at their home.

“I was worried when I didn’t get a call the next day, and I couldn’t get in contact with them,” Malleck said. “That’s when I was worried. But I was able to finally text and get through, and they were fine.”

As it turns out, Malleck’s family was one of the lucky ones. Their home withstood Sandy’s powerful winds and dodged the storm surge, and while they lost electricity, they considered themselves lucky. Point Pleasant, however, was not so fortunate.

The borough of slightly less than 20,000 people sits between New York City and Atlantic City, not far from where the eye of the storm passed. The surge destroyed most of the homes in Point Pleasant, and the sand left by the surge made it difficult to bring in relief supplies.

Many of the boardwalks where Malleck used to roam with his friends are now gone. The roller coaster in Seaside Heights, a town south of Point Pleasant, sits in the ocean – a shocking example of nature’s power.

“The places I used to go to – the Boardwalk and Seaside – they’re all underwater,” Malleck said. “A few of my friends, the downstairs of their houses are full of water. It’s affected my town and my family.

“It stinks because I grew up there and used to do those things as a kid. My whole family from North Carolina would come up, and we’d all go there. Places like the aquarium, those places are gone now. The whole pier is gone, and the stuff I used to do as a kid is gone.”

Malleck’s older brother has been helping with the cleanup efforts, shoveling sand out of the streets and helping people find their belongings. While on an excursion through the flooded streets to help a friend find a cat, Malleck’s brother shot video, which he sent to Malleck.

“They were kayaking through the town,” Malleck said. “He had a video of them going through town, and it was just crazy. You look right and you look left, and there were houses just full of water – houses that I recognized. It was crazy.”

Despite his concern for his family, Malleck still managed to find a way to focus during the Hokies’ Thursday night game at Miami. Interestingly enough, he played arguably his best game, catching four passes for 58 yards – both career highs.

“I tried to put it out of mind, but it was still in the back of my head,” Malleck said. “I guess I played a little harder. My brother and one of my best friends from high school and two of my coaches were supposed to go, but they couldn’t get out.”

His family continues to do fine, despite the circumstances. As of press time, they didn’t have electricity. Malleck was contemplating going home after the Florida State game and checking on things.

In the short term, he’ll concentrate on his studies and on football and keep closer tabs on his family. In the long term, he hopes to see his hometown and surrounding areas rebuilt. But he knows that, unfortunately, it will take a while. It probably won’t happen until after his career at Tech concludes.

“I think it’ll recover,” he said. “But it’s going to take a while. I’d guess five or 10 years to build it back to the way it was.”

That may seem like a long time to many, but Malleck understands what will be rebuilt can’t begin to replace what has been lost. For many in his hometown, they’ve lost a lifetime.