HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg resident Charles Killingsworth said he was walking home from church Sunday morning when he saw a number of people dressed in black and yellow scattered across his neighborhood ripped apart by Saturday's tornado.
"We got football players, we got baseball players, just the whole nine yards," Killingsworth said. "And I want to thank USM so much. I mean that tornado was some kind of forceful and I'm just thankful to be alive."
Killingsworth said he never expected to see Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry sawing through trees in his front yard.
But when a tornado swept through the home he's lived in for 16 years, the Hattiesburg High and William Carey alum was more than grateful to receive some helping hands from Southern Miss.
"Honestly, the community would do it for us," said Southern Miss junior football player Devin Farrior. "They do it for us on Saturday's and they do it for any sport. I felt it needed to happen."
Countless athletes across several USM sports made their way to Lexington Circle on Sunday afternoon to lend their services, including the women's basketball team who just returned from a road game at Rice on Saturday.
"Winning ball games are important, competing every day's important," said Southern Miss women's basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis. "But you never know within one glimpse what can be taken away. And it's our duty and our responsibility to help people in our community. It just breaks your heart to see how many people have lost their homes. The people that are suffering from this damage, just know that there's people that love you and there are people that are looking to take care of you and help you in any way."
"It really talks about unity," said Southern Miss junior women's basketball player Megan Brown. "When I came out here and saw all these people I was like, 'Man if we can be this united with everything, we would accomplish a lot.' And I just think that's what our USM family is about. It's about unity and when hard times come, we'll rise together."
Southern Miss interim athletic director Zac Woodfin says he expected 75 to 80 people to show up on Sunday. It's estimated over 250 student-athletes and 1,000 volunteers in total made their way to the neighborhood to give any kind of relief they could."
"We told the athletes before we left campus, seeing this will change your life," Woodfin said. "But make sure when you're out there, you're helping to change somebody else's life too."
"Hattiesburg is as one," Killingsworth said. "There's no division here like it is at some places in the country. I appreciate living here."