Ravens Rookie Tackled Devastation of Tuscaloosa Tornado; LB Upshaw Reached out to People in Need

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

Ravens Rookie Tackled Devastation of Tuscaloosa Tornado; LB Upshaw Reached out to People in Need


Byline: Jason Butt, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Courtney Upshaw looked out of his bottom-floor apartment window on 15th Street in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

There it was, a massive, swirling tornado moving through the city April 27, 2011. He didn't want to believe one was rolling through the city and in his direction, even after a friend called to let him know. When he saw it, he ran to the bathroom for cover.

After the tornado passed through, Upshaw walked outside and saw the destruction the twister left behind. In Tuscaloosa alone, 53 people were killed. The EF-5 tornado ravaged the city's downtown and campus districts, destroying many family businesses and homes. Upshaw, poised to enter his senior season as a linebacker at Alabama, felt fortunate. He survived and still had a place he could call home. Shortly after, Upshaw decided to use his name to create The 41 Fund - 41 being his jersey number at Alabama - to help raise money and supplies for those afflicted.

A lot of people lost their homes and needed supplies, Upshaw said. I always told myself if I was ever to make it [in the NFL] that I would start something for little kids. But when the tornado hit, it gave me the opportunity to use my name for something. We ended up raising a lot of money and a lot of stuff that people needed.

At first, Upshaw had to make his in

tentions known to the NCAA before handling any kind of money. Once he was given the OK, he teamed up with Circuit Judge Bernard Smithart to help organize events. Upshaw took pictures and signed autographs for fans at Wal-Marts in Eufaula (Upshaw's hometown) and Alexander City. In return, he asked that those who came donate money or household items.

That kind of character is part of the reason Baltimore was keen to the idea of selecting Upshaw with its first pick in the 2012 draft. Not only was Upshaw a star linebacker for the national champion Crimson Tide, but he had the initiative to reach out to his community.

At Alabama, Upshaw wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks in the SEC. In 2011 alone, Upshaw finished the season with 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Former Florida quarterback John Brantley, who signed an offseason deal with Baltimore, said it was tough to prepare against Upshaw.

He's definitely one of those guys that shows up on your scouting report, Brantley said. He's one of the top guys you want to gameplan around.

Many draft pundits figured Upshaw would go in the first round before Baltimore had a chance to take him at No. 29. But when it was the Ravens' pick, they traded their slot to the Minnesota Vikings for the third selection of the second round and a fourth-rounder. Upshaw, hoping to be a first-round selection, was forced to wait until the second day of the draft after his name wasn't called. But Baltimore took him quickly on Day 2, the 35th overall pick.

I got a little frustrated after Day 1 with the trade of the pick. Upshaw said. But I got there the next day and was hoping Baltimore would pick me, and they did. …

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