When a swarm of tornados ripped through parts of Central Illinois on November 17, communities were left decimated just days before the Thanksgiving holiday.
NFL players from the Washington, Ill. area teamed up to provide some relief for families affected by the devastation. Texans offensive lineman Cody White, Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, Browns quarterback Alex Tanney, and Colts linebacker Andy Studebaker, all Illinois natives, hosted a Monday Night Football "Game Watch" at Five Points Washington for all of the Washington High School Athletic Teams and their families.
"We were trying to figure out a way to give back and help out because we couldn't be there," White said. "We got together and chatted about it and thought we could help out the athletes and their families and get them together to get their minds off things. Get them some food, around good people, watch a little football and everything."
Since the NFL quartet could not be in attendance, they partnered with local world-class meat and catering company, Echo Valley Meats, to provide a top-of-the-line, home-cooked meal in front of large projection screens showcasing the Chicago Bears versus Dallas Cowboys game, which was preceded by a special welcoming video.
Though the NFL players are scattered throughout the country during season, a strong bond resonates from their hometown roots. White recalls playing little league with Hoomanawanui and travel basketball with Tanney while growing up.
"Central Illinois is kind of spread out, but it's a lot of small towns," he said. "We're a close-knit group back there. Most of us have a connection in every way. We were just happy to be able to get something together and get it in motion."
All of the Washington High School Athletic Teams played pivotal, first responder roles with clean up and relief efforts in the days after the tornados struck.
"We're proud of the strength they've shown," White said. "It makes us proud to be from back there. We're just hoping they can get their minds away from everything that was going on and just have a good time."