COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With what head football coach Watson Brown can describe as nothing but a successful spring season in the books, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle squad rounded out their year with their final gathering coming, somewhat unconventionally, off of the gridiron.
Rather, the team headed off-campus to work with the Putnam County Habitat for Humanity (PCHFH) on a project that would prove to yield more that just houses to live in for residents of the community.
"One of the main reasons that I wanted to get out here was to teach our guys to learn to give," Coach Brown said. "Young people, and all of us really, just stick our hands out and ask 'what can you do for me?' and I think at a young age that this is a good thing to learn.
"I can see it in their faces when they're out here that they understand what they're doing for the community," Brown finished.
Habitat for Humanity is an international organization that serves to provide applicants with a "hand up" in the community, and is constantly striving to "rid Putnam County and the rest of the world of substandard housing and homelessness."
The program provides those in need with an opportunity to purchase a home for their families using a no-interest loan that is paid over the course several years. In a process that can take as many as two years to complete, first-time homeowners are required to participate in specific classes that educate them on the various aspects of maintaining a household, from financial issues to basic home maintenance.
Coach Brown and his staff were contacted by representatives from PCHFH a few months back with the opportunity for their team to spend a day working on a local Habitat project. The staff immediately saw the opportunity as one that would not only be a benefit to the community, but one that would serve to strengthen their team off of the turf.
They arranged for the team to head out to McCaskey Court in two groups on Saturday, where players spent the day assisting other Habitat workers with the ground maintenance and construction of two new homes.
One of the goals that the coaching staff had was to divide their team in unconventional ways, grouping offensive players with defensive players, and upperclassmen with lowerclassmen.
"This is giving our guys a chance to get to know each other in a different way," Brown said. "When you've got 105 kids on a team, you don't know everybody. You're playing with people you don't even know.
"I think that when they get out here, they have to talk to each other and help each other pick stuff up, and they get to know each other in a different way."
The first group of players arrived at about 8:30 a.m. and worked on everything from lawn maintenance and the relocation of storage structures, to deck construction and putting up siding. Work broke at 11 a.m. when the second group arrived, and the team congregated for a lunch of burgers and hot dogs grilled by Tech Tailgaters John Donnelly and Associate Director of Tech Athletics Frank Harrell, playing the part of "Associate Chef" for the day. Lunch was complete with cook-out sides donated and by members of various FCE organizations, and was served by representatives of PCHFH.
"We want to thank Coach Brown and Coach Taylor for working with us this spring," Executive Director of PCHFH, Pam Ealey, said. "The players handled a wide variety of jobs in the neighborhood and I am sure it impacted each of them as they got to work alongside the future homeowners.
"I hope we can make this a regular event each spring for the team to come out and help change lives, including their own, by working on a jobsite," Ealey finished.
Also on-site was the proud owner of one of the new homes going up, Sandy Durbin – a Cookeville native and single mother living with two of her three children, one of whom is autistic. Durbin was present to oversee the progress on her house, and to express her appreciation for everyone who dedicated their time to help turn her dream into a reality.
"Habitat has given me a great opportunity to better care for my family by providing them with a home to live in, at a cost that is affordable for me," she said.
While the McCaskey Court project will culminate in three new houses for Habitat applicants, it will also serve as a valuable experience for each and every member of the Tech football team.
With tear-filled eyes, Durbin talked about the joy that she's gotten in seeing so many different groups come together to contribute to the completion of her home. Known as one of Habitat's "collegiate buildings," Durbin's building has been worked on by groups hailing from a wide variety of colleges across the country.
"I have had college students from New York, Rhode Island, Missouri, Notre Dame, and several other collegiate groups come to help work on my house," she said excitedly. "And I wouldn't rather have any other building than the collegiate house, I have met so many wonderful people and love them all," she finished.
Anyone present on Saturday to meet Ms. Durbin would be hard-pressed to not be moved by her gratitude, with Tech players being no exception.
"This has been great for us – you know, you can't build a house by yourself, so it's been a blessing for us to be able to come out here to help her and help to finish the house a little bit faster than it would have been without our help," junior linebacker Jerry King said. "Seeing her with a smile on her face and knowing how hard it must have been for her and her family is a great reward.
"I feel like this, as our last gathering as a team, is a great team project headed into the summer," King continued. "Learning how to work with each other, use our hands, and help other people will help us as a team to just continue to be motivated. This is showing us that there is always someone in need, and teaching us to be thankful for everything that we have," he finished.
Junior right tackle Hunter Beadle agrees.
"Overall Coach Brown told us that we had a great spring as a team, and working on these Habitat for Humanity houses is letting us to get to know the community and helping us to become a stronger team, a better team," Beadle said.