TUSCALOOSA | Brandon Deaderick didn't have to come back to Tuscaloosa for a first-hand look at the devastation from the April 27 tornado.
He was here when it happened.
"I was in my apartment, right on 15th Street (at University Downs)," Deaderick said on Thursday as he helped unload boxes of donated clothing at the Leland Aid Center in Alberta City. "I saw it, actually saw it coming. We just sort of hunkered down in the bathroom until it passed. Then we went outside and realized how lucky we were. We have tornadoes at home (in Elizabethtown, Ky.) but I had never seen one before, or seen anything like this."
Deaderick was one of several NFL players working with Under Armour, which donated some 17,000 units of men's, women's and children's clothing for distribution to those who had suffered tornado-related losses. Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons' first-round pick, was back as well, making a second visit to Tuscaloosa in the wake of the storms.
At the Red Cross Station at University Mall, Marcel Dareus, the Buffalo Bills' No. 1 pick in the recent NFL draft, was helping load cases of water. Arizona Cardinals' safety Rashad Johnson of Sulligent, a former UA team captain, was patiently helping an elderly lady pick out hats and T-shirts for her family.
"I was in Arizona when I heard," Johnson said. "I was actually calling home (to Sulligent), because I heard about the damage there. They were OK, but they said to listen to the satellite radio about Tuscaloosa. That's how I found out.
"You hear about these natural disasters but you never really think they are going to hit close to you or affect people you know. Seeing it all just hurt my heart. That's why I wanted to come back. You could easily just write a check and send it, but that's nothing like coming back to contribute any way you can."
Deaderick echoed the sentiment.
"Time is more important than money," he said. "These are people I know. Last year, I lived in Alberta City.
"My house, where I was living last year, was right over there," Deaderick said, indicating an area across University Boulevard from the Leland Shopping Center Parking Lot.
"It's gone now."
Jones had made previous trips back to Tuscaloosa in the wake of the storm, and says he will come back "as often as I can."
"Everybody here supported me while I was in college, so now I want to support them," Jones said. "I came back last week for a day, then had to go back to Atlanta. But even when I was in New York (where Jones was on hand for the NFL draft on the day after the storm struck), it was in my thoughts. I couldn't see much because our day was so full up there, but I was trying to check on people. When I did see, it was devastating."
Jones, a native of Foley in Baldwin County, has had experiences with natural disasters before in an area impacted by Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.
"We didn't have power for about a month after Katrina," Jones said. "But for something this far inland, it was just totally unexpected.
"I'm just here to do anything I can - unload boxes, give out water, anything for people in need. Just keep a smile on my face and make people feel better.
"I appreciate the way Under Armour has stepped up. I am going to be here when I can. I am keep in touch with people and not let people forget."