Alabama offensive lineman Chris Owens had done some construction work before but never something as big as building a wall.
That didn't stop him and dozens of his fellow Alabama student-athletes from joining their counterparts from Auburn University last Saturday to construct walls for three new homes being built for families who lost everything when tornadoes tore through the Beauregard area in early March.
"We’re all one state," said Owens, who was joined by other Alabama student-athletes from the football, basketball, soccer and volleyball teams, among others. "It doesn’t matter who does what in what competitive sport. At the end of the day, we have the chance to take care of the community."
The student-athletes, coaches and others, like former Auburn great Tim Hudson and coach Gene Chizik, spent the better part of Saturday at Providence Baptist in Beauregard pre-building walls for three homes that are being constructed this week.
The three families receiving homes lost theirs during the tornado and are directly connected to employees of East Alabama Medical Center, including Wayne Robinson, the brother of Maggie Robinson, who had worked at EAMC for almost 40 years before losing her life during the tornadoes.
The homes are being funded by Cornerstone of EAMC, which partnered with the Chattahoochee Fuller Center for Housing for the project.
"We are very excited to be a part of it and it’s just part of what we do. Cornerstone’s been around since 1991 helping employees help each other," said Cornerstone Manager Lisa Ruffin, who added that both universities reached out to EAMC chaplain Laura Eason to see what they could do to help.
While the rivalry between the two schools is ongoing, there was no evidence of it as the student-athletes hammered away last Saturday on the 8th anniversary of the devastating tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa in 2011.
"We’re all part of the state of Alabama, and obviously we have a rivalry. That’s an important part of what helps bind the state," said Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Bryne. "But when you have challenging times collectively in the state of Alabama, both Alabama and Auburn have always done a really good job of coming together. It happened in Tuscaloosa when we had the devastating tornadoes up there. Auburn came up and helped us out and supported.
"We came to do the same thing."
Auburn student-athletes have had a steady presence in the Beauregard community over the past two months, coming out multiple times to lend a hand, said Auburn Director of Athletics Allen Greene, who also agreed with Byrne about the need to come together.
"Tragedies like this transcend rivalries," he said. "It means a lot that Alabama student-athletes want to come to our community and help. And obviously we did the same several years ago, and that just speaks to Alabamians understanding that family is bigger than sport."
Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown said it's important to the football team to come out to give back to a community that has given them so much.
"We say we’re one big family down here. In order for us to say that, we’ve got to preach it, so just being able to come out here and give back to people that give us so much day in and day out," said Brown, who noted the Alabama athletes who joined the Tigers.
"That just shows how dedicated we are to helping each other on and off the field," he said.