By Steven Bartolotta
In the wee hours of the morning on September 13, 2008, the third-most destructive hurricane in United States history was making landfall in Galveston. Hurricane Ike destroyed thousands of lives along the gulf coast of Texas, but for North Texas offensive lineman Kelvin Drake, it did more than just destroy his home. It reshaped his life.
Storm Clouds Started Building In 2007
For Drake, the 2007 season was a banner year in his football career. He was the starting center for North Texas and was named to the all-conference team. Things were going well, however, late in the 2007 season Drake injured his ankle. At the time surgery seemed like it would take care of the problem and he would be ready to go at 100 percent for the 2008 season.
But it didn't. The surgery was a success, but the rehab wasn't going as well as he wanted it. The 2008 season had already started and four games in Drake had to make a decision.
"To tell the truth, it wasn't until after the game at Rice that I knew I wouldn't be able to come back," said Drake. "At the time I wanted to come back, but if I wasn't going to be 100 percent I didn't want to waste a year so I talked with the coaches and we decided it would be best if I redshirted."
That decision was made and his football career would be put on hold in 2008. Life, however, granted Drake no such luxuries.
Leading Up To A Game Of Life
Ironically, North Texas was scheduled to play at LSU on September 13, 2008. The game had been in limbo as both schools monitored the progress of Hurricane Ike in the Gulf of Mexico.
Drake, meanwhile, monitored the situation at home. His family lived on the west side of Galveston Island in an apartment.
"It was very difficult at the time to balance everything out, we were getting ready for LSU, I'm calling my parents telling them to leave, it was crazy," said Drake.
Meanwhile North Texas still prepared to make the trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU, while Drake was busy trying to help his family from Denton.
Drake's family escaped to Lake Charles, Louisiana and managed to gather up a few belongings on the way, but nothing else. When they returned home, it was total devastation.
"My mom said she found 8-10 feet of water in the apartment," said Drake. "We lost everything with the exception of some clothes. It was all gone. The funny part was that when we went back and saw everything, there were boats and some expensive yachts on our home."
For Drake the hardest part was the return trip home.
"We took a ferry to get to Galveston Island and we went through the town of (Port) Bolivar, it was completely destroyed, it was unbelievable," said Drake. "The whole time my stomach was just in a tear, and I know I'm a big guy, but I shed some tears when we got back."
A New Man Emerges
After the turmoil of the 2008 season, Drake is back at 100 percent physically for North Texas and ready to return to the field, but he's also glad that he went through what he did.
"I feel like I'm reborn again on the field," said Drake. "I can't wait for the season to get here."
Drake is back and looking like the all-conference player he was in 2007. But what's noticeable about the 6-2, 280-pound guard is his mental outlook.
"I'm a completely changed man," said Drake. "I don't ever want to go through anything like that again but I'm better off for it. It taught me that your life can be changed in just one day and not to take anything for granted."
As for his family, they no longer call Galveston home. They have since moved closer inland to the Houston area but will never forget the morning of Sept. 13, 2008.
His ankle has healed, his hometown has healed, and with his heart healed as well, Drake is ready to return to the game he loves.