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May 10, 2011

Upshaw does his part

TUSCALOOSA | Courtney Upshaw could've been injured. Heck, considering where he was at the time, he easily could have been a casualty.

"I was at home. I stay on 15th Street around University Downs," Upshaw said. "As it got closer, I knew I had to get to the bathroom, so I went and got in the tub. After, I went outside and I saw what it did. My reaction was just, 'Wow - I don't want to ever see anything like that again.'"

Once the University of Alabama linebacker rose from an area where some others weren't fortunate enough to rise, he felt compelled to do something.

That something was the 41 Fund.

Named for the senior's jersey number with the Crimson Tide, the 41 Fund was established to help victims of the tornado.

"I decided to do something to help. I felt like it was a perfect opportunity, so I went home and talked with some people I know, and we decided to start something in Eufaula (Upshaw's hometown). Other cities wanted me to come and lend a hand," Upshaw said. "It was a fundraiser to help victims and also take in supplies. Over $25,000 got raised."

Upshaw was in Eufaula last Thursday, and held a similar event in Alexander City on Friday, signing autographs, posing for photos and taking donations. The fund had to first be approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to make sure Upshaw's eligibility would not be at risk.

A local judge who knew Upshaw from his high school years, Judge Bernard Smithart, helped him organize the event, and to make sure it would be in keeping with NCAA regulations.

"When I first reached him that day, he was already helping pull victims out of houses and cleaning up," Smithart said. "He wanted to do something right away, but we had to hold off and get everything checked out through compliance first. "We started to chop through the red tape, and in a few days, (UA Director of Compliance) Mike Ward did a fantastic job of getting it approved."

Smithart said in addition to the money raised, three truckloads of supplies were also taken in through 41 Fund efforts, and sent to North Alabama and Elmore County.

"When it was all done, I told him I was more proud of what I'd seen from him over those two days than anything he'd ever done on a football field," Smithart said.

As for damage to his own property, Upshaw said broken windows both in his apartment and his automobile were the extent of his damage. He didn't personally know any of those who were killed or injured, he said. He was among the lucky ones.

And he knew it.

"When I stepped outside, I saw everyone's windows busted out, but I looked toward 15th Street and you could see everything destroyed," Upshaw said. "Right after, as soon as I saw what had happened, I called a couple of people, just making sure everyone was OK."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.

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