With a high-scoring offense, Pensacola Escambia started 1-1, giving coach Ronnie Gilliland hope that the team could make the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
Hurricane Ivan washed out those plans. The most powerful storm to hit the Panhandle since Hurricane Camille in 1969, Ivan made a violent landfall Sept. 15, slamming the coast with staggering intensity and spawning numerous tornadoes.
"This has been the worst year I've had in 33 years of coaching," Gilliland said. "It's hard to imagine the damage that was done."
Of the 1,800 students at Escambia, the families of 200 lost everything, as did 20 teachers.
The hardest hit area was Grande Lagoon. One of the players, lineman Kyle Johnson, rode out the storm at home as a frothing wall of water burst down his street. As the flood rose to his chest, he managed to climb into the back of a moving van to escape from drowning. Four people in his neighborhood died.
The team never recovered. Escambia, which did not play again until two weeks after the storm, lost its remaining games and finished 1-7.
"It's been a nine-week nightmare that's going to continue for some time," Gilliland said.