Suffice to say, 6 a.m. and college students get along about as well as Trump and Obama. Especially the Saturday morning after spring-semester classes end.
But given an opportunity to help victims of the tornado that ravaged parts of Gloucester County, more than a dozen Christopher Newport football players welcomed a pre-dawn wake-up call last month.
The project originated with coach Matt Kelchner, ever-eager to expand young men's horizons. Shortly after the April 16 tornado, he asked his pastor, Northside Christian Church's Larry Jones, if any church members were in need.
Joe Lumia, head of Northside's disaster response team, knew the answer was yes.
From their home in Gloucester's Coke area, Larry and Toni Williams, and their son, Benjamin, saw the tornado approaching. They raced toward the bathroom for shelter but never made it.
They held onto one another in the hallway as the storm struck, rendering them helpless for 30-45 seconds.
But they were not injured, and aside from some shingles blown off the roof, the house was unscathed. Blessed doesn't begin to describe.
Two doors down, Shirley Taylor's house "is pretty much trashed," Toni Williams said, and will require 6-8 months of repair.
"It's amazing how it hit and how it missed," Williams said of the tornado.
Much of the fence surrounding the Williams' home was leveled. Ancient pine trees tumbled, littering the backyard and crushing a car and shed.
Enter Kelchner and his Captains. At a team picnic April 22, he asked for their help, with anyone interested encouraged to gather at 7 a.m. the following morning at Northside.
Kelchner had no idea how many would show. Nor did running back Tui Ailstock, but he goosed several teammates with 6 a.m. phone calls.
A caravan of cars later, 18-20 football players reported for duty.
"It was kind of neat to see so many," Kelchner said.
Off they went to Gloucester, where they joined several local volunteers. Wielding chainsaws and flexing muscles, they needed several hours to clean up the debris.
Sap stuck to their hands and thirst set in, but nothing that soap, water and soft drinks couldn't solve.
"All of us were amazed," Kelchner said. "Holy mackerel, there was some real devastation."
"I'd never experienced a tornado or seen the devastation it causes," Ailstock said.
But the core lessons that Saturday were not about nature's unimaginable power, about how one funnel cloud can snatch the La-Z-Boy from your living room and deposit it miles away.
No, this was teamwork that transcended third-and-long. This was loving thy neighbor as thy self.
"I told a lot of the guys this was a great opportunity to make a difference in the community," Ailstock said. "Our football team wouldn't be where it is without the support of the community. …
"It was also a team-building experience. It's hard to get a lot of guys together out of season. It had to be a team effort to pick up some of those logs."
The day was especially rewarding for offensive lineman Matt Arrington. He hails from Gloucester and graduated from Gloucester High. The tornado dodged his immediate family, but there was no chance of him missing the clean-up.
"It's amazing what you can do in a couple of hours when you have people working together," Arrington said. "Guys are willing to step up and offer their services now matter how hard it is or how early it is. …
"We all came together to help those in need, and I think that shows the type of character we have on our team."
Character starts at the top, where Kelchner, like scores of others in his profession, encourages a culture steeped in service. That's why some of the Captains serve as mentors at Riverside Elementary School just down the street from campus. That's why Kelchner helps — "I change some diapers" — tend to the infants at Northside on some Sundays.
Their reward? Inner satisfaction and the appreciation of others.
Toni Williams snapped many photographs that morning and sent several to CNU president Paul Trible. The pleasure was the Captains'.
Amid the hard work and goodwill, Arrington said, "you almost forgot that a disaster had happened."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun