December 1, 2001
Wide-eyed Indians experience love at first flightBy Mike London, The Salisbury Post
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Catawba has already survived one of its biggest tests this week — the plane flight from Charlotte to Grand Rapids.
When the Indians talked about taking to the air on Thursday, they weren’t just chatting about Luke Samples throwing to Nick Means. Instead, they were speaking about climbing into one of those big silver birds with U.S. Airways painted on the side
As expected, there were some big eyes, some closed eyes and some clenched jaws as the Indians prepared to soar northward. Because 22 of the 52 Indians who made the road trip to Michigan for today’s semifinal game at Grand Valley State had never flown.
Todd McComb, Shawn McBride, O.J. Lennon, David Huey, David Hamilton, Corey Reese, Adam Smith ... . The list of Indians who were not lords of the fly went on and on. And exactly how well or how badly those rookie flyers would fare was very much up in the air.
For most Indians, their aerial debut proved to be a case of love at first flight.
“This turned out,” said smiling head coach David Bennett, “to be quite an adventure for these young men. Daryl (Holiday) was scared, but then, he’s scared of butterflies.”
“Aw, I was all right, Coach,” protested Holiday.
Linebacker/math whiz McComb quickly calculated the obvious advantage in traveling via the friendly skies rather than by Firestone rubber. It wasn’t lost on McComb that flying was the equivalent of knocking a couple of tenths of a second off his 40-yard dash time.
“Flying was so quick,” said McComb after his maiden voyage. “We’d gone over five states in the same time that a bus wouldn’t have gotten us past Greensboro.”
Not that there weren’t anxious moments.
“We were a little scared at first,” admitted McComb.
“We were nervous,” added McBride, another linebacker who fears nothing on the football field.
Most everyone agreed it was defensive tackle Khanis Hubbard who made the biggest contribution to getting the Indians airborne with a minimum of misery.
“Khanis came to me before takeoff and asked if we could have a word of prayer,” said Bennett. “I asked him if he’d like to lead it and he said, ‘Yes sir.’ Then Khanis got on the intercom and prayed that the good Lord would keep us in his arms and help us arrive safely. And Khanis asked for Catawba’s fans to arrive safely, too.”
“We may have been the first flight to have a word of prayer before it had safety instruction,” smiled receivers coach Chip Hester. “The prayer did more good than the safety instruction, though. It was one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever had.”
“Khanis did a good job on that prayer,” said McBride. “Praying always seems to help.”
By all accounts, an experienced minister couldn’t have outdone young Hubbard, but some Indians still weren’t leaving anything to chance.
“I listened to what coach Tom (defensive line coach Jim Tomsula) told me to do,” said McComb. “Khanis had his prayer, but just to be sure, I said a little prayer of my own, too.”
Athletic director Dennis Davidson reported the Indians let out a collective “oooooooh” of relief that was probably heard in Salisbury when the speeding plane managed to rise above the runway.
The team also applauded loudly and thankfully when the plane found its way back to earth in the land of the wolverines. And if that clapping was a tell-tale sign of being aerial novices, well, that was OK with the relieved Indians.
Mostly they were relieved to find the weather in Michigan, while cold and damp, at least tolerable.
“I was afraid we’d be trying to land in a blizzard or something,” said McBride. “But you know, it really wasn’t all that bad.”
In fact, it was good enough that McComb was already laying down smack about how much fun this evening’s return trip to North Carolina will be — provided Catawba wins, of course.
“I really think I’m going to enjoy that flight back,” McComb said. “Because now I know what to expect.”
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