UMass football’s Floridians keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma’s progress

  • This Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 satellite image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. Irma roared into the Caribbean with record force early Wednesday, its winds shaking homes and flooding buildings on a chain of small islands along a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and a possible direct hit on South Florida. AP

  • Motorists head north on US 1, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Key Largo, Fla., as Hurricane Irma roared into the Caribbean with record-setting force early Wednesday, shaking people in their homes on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda on a path toward Puerto Rico and possibly Florida by the weekend. AP

  • GOES-16 captured this geocolor image of Hurricane Irma approaching Anguilla at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday AP

Friday, September 08, 2017

AMHERST — When the UMass football team is practicing, Zeke Edmonds is keeping his focus on the field.

But otherwise, the West Palm Beach, Florida, native is keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma bearing down on his home state.

“When I’m on the field I’m focused on trying to beat Old Dominion. I just block everything out,” the junior safety said. “When I’m off the field it’s on my mind, checking my phone and CNN to see what it’s looking like. I saw what happened in Houston. I don’t want to go through that.”

He said his family is taking precautions.

“I just hope all my family stays safe. They said the sky was clear today, but I saw it hit the islands,” he said. “It was crazy. I’m hoping for the best honestly. Family is very important to me. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened. I’m just hoping for the best.”

Since the late 1990s, the Minutemen have heavily recruited the Sunshine State and currently have 12 Floridians on the roster: Edmonds, Jesse Britt, Isaiah Rodgers, James Bowe Jr., Bakhari Goodson, Claudin Cherrelus, Tyshaun Ingram, Bilal Ally, Cycoby Burch, Brian Roberts Jr., Patrick Volcy and Caeleb Washington.

Assistant coaches Charles Walker and Leonard Hankerson are also from the state.

Rodgers is from Tampa, which is on the Gulf of Mexico side of the state, and not expected to be in as much danger as Florida’s Atlantic coast cities.

Still, he’s glad his family took him up on his offer to visit Amherst this weekend and avoid the storm.

“They’ll get away from it,” he said. “That’s the positive side of it. That’s why I asked them to come up to this game.”

Rodgers was thinking about relatives and friends who’ll still be there.

“I’m trying not to look at the news,” he said. “I’m letting my family keep me updated.”

UMass coach Mark Whipple, who lived in South Florida for two years when he was the University of Miami’s offensive coordinator, was giving everyone additional space to keep track of things at home.

“You want to make sure their families are fine,” Whipple said.

Some potential recruits, who had planned to visit this weekend, had to cancel their trips from Florida. Walker said his concerns were with those recruits.

“We’ll be checking on them and their families as well,” he said.

As far as his own family, Walker said his grandmother had already evacuated.

“My aunt in Mississippi went to get my grandmother,” he said. “We’re keeping our faith in God and praying on it. Sometimes those hurricanes take a U-turn and go the other way.”

This is the second straight year a storm is arriving behind a UMass-Old Dominion game. The Minutemen and Monarchs played a day early last year to avoid Hurricane Matthew hitting Virginia.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage