NORMAL, Ill. — In a hallway beyond the entrance of Gate 4 at Hancock Stadium, Nick Sievers clutched two sweatshirts — one red, one green.
The garments were among many donations the Washington community has received this week after an EF-4 tornado tore through the town of 15,000 Sunday morning.
"I've worn the same clothes for two days," Sievers, a senior guard, said Tuesday. "It is still humbling. I woke up (Tuesday) morning in a hotel."
His family's home was one of many destroyed Sunday, less than 14 hours after his team defeated Normal University High 41-7 in a Class 5A football state quarterfinal. Several other players and an assistant coach also lost homes.
Rather than practicing Monday, some players and coaches spent the day helping with relief efforts in their hometown. Sievers, who was in a church near his home when the storm came through, said he walked around Sunday shutting off any gas lines he saw.
"The neighborhood reeked of gas," he said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, orange and black, the school's colors, filled that hallway inside Hancock. The team lined up as volunteers served them lunch each day. The Panthers were practicing at Illinois State University in preparation for their Class 5A state semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
"I don't think it's soaked in yet," said sophomore Randy Meneweather, who stayed with his grandparents on the South Side of Chicago for a couple of days after the tornado hit. "It seems like a dream and I'm gonna wake up and it's not here.
"I'm just trying to go out here and play the game I love."
And so that's what Washington will try to do Saturday on the road against the Cyclones, whose school sits on West Washington Street in Springfield.
A football tucked under his left arm, a worn piece of white paper dotted with play diagrams in his left hand, ninth-year Washington coach Darrell Crouch talked strategy while his players ate lunch Wednesday.
After that it was off to the film room, then back to the practice field.
The team won the Mid-Illini Conference title, had an undefeated regular season, set a single-season school rushing record this season, one that has been full of goals fulfilled.
"Is that last goal worth giving up?" Crouch asked, already knowing the answer.
Crouch said his players feel a responsibility to the community that has supported them this season and all the ones before. He said this journey began with last season's 28-27 quarterfinal loss against Morris, long before Sunday.
"(Football) helps us get our mind off everything," junior tight end Dane Rose said. "I would rather be out there helping people.
"We haven't been to state since 1985. So I'm sure that we are getting some people's minds off of everything."
After practice Wednesday, coaches handed out orange stickers in the shape of Illinois with the words "Washington Strong" on them. The team applied them to the back of their helmets as one.
"People always talk about wanting to leave Washington," said senior quarterback Colton Marshall, who also lost his home. "Stuff like this, it makes you want to stay."Copyright © 2015, CT Now