Family of Indiana University's Jones picking up pieces after Hurricane Michael

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) is tackled by Indiana's Reakwon Jones during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. Michigan State won 35-21. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

When Hurricane Michael was making landfall in Florida on Oct. 10, the majority of the Indiana University football team was preparing for its homecoming game against Iowa.

Reakwon Jones, though, was questioning where his heart belonged. The redshirt junior linebacker was thinking a little about Iowa and a lot about his hometown of Lynn Haven, Fla., a community of less than 4,000 families located just north of Panama City, Fla.

As the hurricane leveled his hometown with winds recorded at more than 150 mph, Jones felt helpless.

"The hurricane pretty much destroyed the whole city," he said. "I think five schools are completely gone. My mom's house is gone. All our clothes and stuff that was in the house is gone. My father's house got destroyed completely.

"I still haven't been able to talk to him because there's not much service or anything in the city. So it's hard to talk. My nephew is still there, and the looting is getting bad. I've been praying and trying to find out how to keep up with people and how to help from up here."

On that Wednesday, as the hurricane moved through Lynn Haven, Jones was on the phone with his stepfather. The cell towers were down very quickly, and the only phone service that worked was MetroPCS. He was able to reach his stepfather that way.

He called every few hours to check in and see how his family was doing.

"While I was on the phone, a tree had fallen on the house, and I heard everyone scream,'' Jones said. "It broke my heart because I couldn't be there and then just hearing them go through that. My mom told me that my little sister was crying the whole time it was going on. It hurt a lot."

The week after the Iowa game, as IU prepared to play Penn State last Saturday, there was a lot of behind the scenes work going on in the Indiana athletic program trying to get Jones' mom, stepdad and siblings up to Indiana to spend some time together as a family.

His mother, Tanya Mitchell Broxton, had only ever been to IU once, and that was to drop her son off at college. None of the others had ever been to Bloomington.

And yet when Jones went through "The Walk" to Memorial Stadium with his teammates a few hours before Saturday's game, he looked up to see the four members of his family cheering him on. It was quite emotional.

"I just couldn't believe that they were there,'' Jones said. "Just to see them in person, in Indiana, was crazy. I knew they were coming, but at the same time I couldn't believe that they were here. I was extremely happy. I felt the same again. I was smiling.

"They're doing better. I think us being able to see each other on Saturday was really a big thing. It was really emotional. I haven't seen them since January. We were working all week to figure a way to get them up here. I really needed it, and they really needed it, too, just to get away and be able to lay eyes on each other and let each other know that everything was going to be OK. We needed it. That just made everybody feel better. It was good for us."

That night, his mom, his sister T'yana, his brother Omari and his stepdad, Marcus, all piled into a one-bedroom apartment.

"After the game, I got to hang out with them," Jones said. "They stayed with me because they couldn't afford to stay anywhere else. They stayed with me in my little one-bedroom with my two dogs. We made it work.

"We packed up in there, hung out and had fun, caught up, talked and shared feelings. It was just great. It was really good for me. It's really hard to focus when you haven't seen your family in forever. Then something like that happens, and I was able to see them and lay eyes on them to see that they were physically OK. They were excited to see me. My little brother and sister did not want to leave. They were fighting all day (Sunday) trying to stay longer, the whole week. But it is what it is. My stepdad had to get back to work."

Before heading for home, though, Jones' family did receive some good news. They learned the NCAA has approved a GoFundMe page for people to donate money to help them rebuild their home and replace their possessions.

"You can donate on there,'' Jones said. "It's on my Twitter. It's on Facebook and stuff like that. I'm not looking for no big donors. Whatever someone can donate. We're grateful for anything that happens. We're just trying to find a way to restart and build on and move on in life and put this in the past. No one wants to hang on to this forever."

Jones' Twitter account is @jones-reakwon. His mother's is @SweetTanji357.

Jones has always been close to his family. He has always called home at least once every day ("I wanted to make sure they remember my voice,'' he said with a smile). But having experienced Hurricane Michael just brought the family together in a different way.

"(Being apart) is hard but I've done it before so it's nothing like I haven't done,'' Jones said. "But that hurricane just changed everything. It was like, 'Man, that could have been the last time I had seen my family.' I thought about that, and that's kind of what broke my heart, but I'm just glad they're OK.''