TAMPA — A University of South Florida Bulls football player is stepping off the field to take trips to the panhandle to help his family recover from Hurricane Michael.
Christion Gainer, a sophomore and offensive lineman for the USF Bulls grew up in Panama City. 150 mph wind gusts ripped through his hometown as Hurricane Michael made landfall two weeks ago.
"The city looked like it was just upside down,” he said.
He began checking on his family and friends before he and his cousin gathered up supplies and drove to the area.
"In the moment I felt that I needed to be strong for my family. So emotionally I didn’t know where I was,” he said.
He took video as he drove down his street. He was in shock when he pulled up to his childhood home to find the roof caved into the living room. Several things, including furniture, personal belongings, and appliances were damaged.
Nearly 400 miles away his USF family greeted him when he got back.
"I just exploded emotionally. I started crying and tearing up, I didn’t make it out of the parking lot and I was just on my knees crying,” Gainer said after he got a hug from his coach.
"Everybody wants to help in any way they can,” said Brendan Armitage, the Associate Athletic Director for Compliance.
Although NCAA rules normally don't allow it, the green light was given to start a GoFundMe page to raise money for Gainer’s family. They’ve also given him time off the field.
"He’s getting permission from coaches to take time off from the football team to do what’s best for him and his family and the area up there,” said Armitage.
Any extra money from the GoFundMe page will be donated to groups like the RedCross and Salvation Army to help the Panhandle rebuild.