In the town of Savannah, Tenn., the concept of disaster is not typically a conversation topic. Trouble may come in the form of a few guys looking for mischief down by the shores of Pickwick Lake or after some hard loss in a Friday night rivalry at the football stadium.
Disaster struck Savannah on Tuesday night during one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in Tennessee history.
One of the residents in the town of 7,100 was 2008 TCU football recruit Sam Shutt, a wide receiver at Hardin County High School who was sought after by both Southeast and Mountain West conference teams.
Night of Infamy
The night before he inked his name to become a Horned Frog, Shutt was in the middle of a severe weather system that spawned tornadoes across three states.
“When it all happened I was in my room and heard the wind blowing outside,” Shutt said. “I was talking to coach (Jarrett) Anderson from TCU, and he asked me if I was alright, and I said ‘I’m fine coach.’ Then my dad said, ‘come downstairs,’ and we saw a bunch of trees down and heard the police sirens and ambulances going crazy.”
The Shutts’ house was fine. However, for the recruit’s close family friend, Logan Collier, the situation was not so fortunate.
Collier had been living in his house for four years, but after the tornado plowed through the northern part of Savannah, his boat and four-wheeler were strewn into a neighbor’s house a couple hundred yards away.
On a wall amid the rubble of Collier’s 4-year-old son’s room is a painted No. 4 ÃÂ- Shutt’s number. Collier said he plans to give the painted drywall to Sam as a token of his appreciation.
“Within 30 minutes of the storm about 75 people were at my house helping clear furniture out, and Sam was one of them and he stayed until they all quit,” Collier said. “In fact, he beat his parents here.”
About 10 hours before Shutt scrawled his name, he was in the yard working alongside his neighbors clearing Collier’s house.
“There are not many high school seniors in the event of a disaster that would drop everything and start working without being asked, and that says a lot about a person,” Collier said.
Shutt left Collier’s yard about midnight with signing day on the horizon like the silver lining on the back end of the storm clouds.
“He called early the next morning and said he was OK,” TCU wide receiver coach Anderson said. “The night before he was worried about faxing papers, and the worry wasn’t about faxing papers – it was about the people in town and helping them.”
A Fresh Start
The sense of community Shutt tries to communicate goes beyond the lakeside town of Savannah. He said it was TCU’s family atmosphere that drew him to join Horned Frog Nation in Fort Worth.
During a visit to the university, Shutt’s grandmother died, forcing him to end his trip early. But, he said the people he met were consoling him for his loss.
“It’s kind of like a family. It’s kind of like my home town,” Shutt said. “It’s a lot like my town getting together now and getting everyone to come out.”
After signing with the Horned Frogs on Wednesday, he spent the afternoon knee-deep in debris, aiding the early stages of a long recovery process for a crippled town.
He said he plans to spend today back in town helping neighbors and friends salvage whatever is left in the Hardin County area.
“It’s unbelievable to see. I never thought anything like this could happen – especially in small-town Tennessee,” Shutt said.
Five people have died and Sharon Baptist Church has been leveled by the fury of the storm.
For the time being he will be hauling splintered wood and pieces of shattered homes away in hopes that those affected can have a new beginning.
This fall he will be competing for a spot as a receiver for the Frogs.