It was only a few months ago that St. Stanislaus defensive lineman J.C. Brignone was at the top of his game. An intense player by nature, his senior season of football was on the horizon and several SEC schools were showing strong interest. Finally his chance to shine in his final high school year, and an offer already on the table from his leader. Then came Katrina took everything…everything that is, but his family, his health, and his heart.
"Things could be better," he said dejectedly. "We pretty much lost our house and everything. Everything is kind of gone.
"At least I have my life and my health and I just pray to God that he is behind me in everything I do. That's what I think. He put this straight line before me. I can still play and keep my future intact, still be recruited and go to the next level."
That straight line, which began in Pass Christian on the devastated Mississippi gulf coast, has now extended east into the state of Georgia.
"I'm alright," he continued. "I changed high schools to Parkview, Georgia, outside of Atlanta in Gwinnett County and I am playing football for them and everything. I am handling it as best I can, I guess you could say, looking out for my future.
"The people up here have been awesome. They have given us more than what had, I guess you could say. This lady donated a five bedroom house, people were putting furniture in, the football team took me in like I've been there since I was in the sixth grade, and everybody is making us seem like we are at home. But it is not really home. I still feel the pain of missing my friends and missing my coaches, my family and everybody down there.
"My mom is with me right now, but my dad is back in Mississippi doing work. He is a general contractor down there, getting a bunch of crews up, fixing houses back up as soon as they can.
"There is pretty much just a flat slate of concrete where my house was. We were four or five houses from the beach and got 27 feet of water. I am actually going down tomorrow (Friday) to see how everything is. It is the first day they are letting people in. School is letting me leave tomorrow just to go and see my dad and talk to the insurance people about everything.
So how did Brignone feel as he left his home, a home he would never see again?
"It kind of made me feel like, when I was leaving, that I am not going to have anything anymore. I wasn't even thinking about football anymore, I was thinking about pretty much life then, like what if we do get caught in a storm? What if it hits before we can even get out?
"Everything starts rushing in your mind and you start freaking out. I was just lucky to have my family with me, just trying to get everything out of my head and praying to God that all of my friends and family were safe down there. We got out Sunday night when the rain started coming in.
"They say the pain you go through when you see everything, they told us before we go down there, to get ready to see something that you don't want to see. It hurts."
While his life from a personal standpoint appears to be in shambles, one thing – being on the football field – provides a sanctuary for Brignone. If only for a few brief hours at a time, he can get away from everything and can relive times past when he was on the top of the world.
"I still have my eyes on college, but I keep football and life totally separate, my social life and real life," he explained. "I go out and have fun, go out and hang with my friends, then football comes and my mind is on football. Football season is football season. I don't go out. I come home at 8:30, I get something to eat, then I go to bed. I watch films, I wake up on Saturday mornings and read the newspaper after a win, and it makes me feel good. I go to practice on Sunday and it's all week. It's 15 weeks of just football and that's how it is.
"It kind of got sucked out from me this year being my senior year, but I don't look at anything different. Football is still the same to me. The colleges are still the same to me.
"Today was my third practice. Football is pretty much my life and getting on the field makes me feel rejuvenated, I guess you could say, but as soon as I get home to an empty house, it still reminds me of everything. Just my friends, I try to talk to everybody I can after school. I try to get in touch with as many people as I can."
While Brignone is playing in Georgia at this point, he and his St. Stanislaus teammates and coaches have not given up hope on reuniting in the future.
"Everybody kind of split up," Brignone commented. "We are trying to get together and see what we can do. I know the Mississippi High School Association (MHSAA) pushed the season back two weeks so that's also why I am going down, to talk to the coaches to see what is going on…to see if we can get our team back together.
"We are looking at trying to get the team back, but you have to look at it from the realistic point of view. Some of the people have houses. Some of the people live north of I-10 and only got trees knocked down. Some people, like me, their whole houses were obliterated. I have nothing there, nothing. Ten miles inland there is nothing there. My dad says you can't even tell where you are anymore. He was right around the corner from our house and didn't even know."
With football being his escape, Brignone has welcomed recruiting calls from coaches, if for no other reason than to know they care and to confirm that he still has a future to look forward to. Several have contacted him, including one call from his current leader.
"I have talked to a couple of coaches and they have all made me feel welcome and if I ever have any problems I can call and talk to them," he said. "That makes me feel good and it makes me understand that if I ever have problems that if I go to their college, I would be able to talk to them.
"I've talked to coach [Shane] Beamer at Mississippi State and I have gotten text messages from other colleges, just people checking on me and everything. But most of the time I have just been talking to friends and family just trying to keep in touch with everybody, making sure everybody is fine.
"I still have my top school as Mississippi State, because it is still close to home, what I had as a home, and they have treated me the best. I am just looking around. There is really nothing to go back to, but you really can't look what you have to go back to, because if I lived in Mississippi and the only scholarship I had was to go to Alaska I'd go. If I live in Georgia and I can play at Mississippi State that's where I want to go."
Editor's Note: BulldogBlitz.com will be teaming with Supersport930 in Jackson to help provide help for the families on the coast. A half trailer of supplies was sent today on short notice, but we will have that same trailer parked at the Madison Wal-Mart at 9:00 AM next Friday waiting to be filled. Feel free to drop by with any supplies or money that can be used to make it a full load, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.