On September 27, just days after the LSU Tigers' big win over West Virginia, Alfred Blue III was sitting in class when his phone rang. It was his mother, Erica Clement.
That morning, she sent Alfred's three younger siblings, two sisters and one brother, to school. After putting them on the bus, she left the house to run errands. Sometime while she was gone, the house caught fire.
It started in the back bedroom of the small structure, but the flames rapidly spread from room to room and by the time the firefighters arrived, the home was completely engulfed.
The house was home to not only Blue's mother and siblings, but also his grandmother. She moved in with his family after her husband passed away, because she needed assistance to live her daily life. Blue's aunt and cousins stayed there as well.
Nothing was salvageable. Clothes. Furniture. Pictures. Gone.
Firefighters blamed the blaze on electrical problems, but finding the cause of the fire was not the priority; it was finding a place to live -- again.
This wasn't the first fire for the Blue family.
Alfred was in middle school at the time. His family had just spent the day at the beach. He stuck around with a few cousins while his parents went home to eat dinner. While at home, they had a grease spill on the stove. They left the mess to clean up later.
Alfred came home. In the kitchen, he began making himself dinner. He turned on the stove. Flames erupted. Not knowing any better, he tossed water on the fire. The blaze spread fast, reaching the ceilings. Alfred escaped without any physical harm, but mentally it changed him, eventually helping him cope with the second tragic loss.
"I wouldn't say this was a bad experience because this was the second time this had happened," Blue says. "We had a fire back when I was in middle school. It was something hard to take, you know, we lost everything. You have to start over from scratch. What’s next? What am I going to do now? We lost everything we had. It changes you when you're young."
Clement moved her children and mother into a small apartment days after the fire. Blue's aunt and cousins moved into a place of their own, as the apartment was too small for all of them. Clement hopes to find a house soon for her family to move into.
Thankfully, Blue and his family do not have to do this alone. LSU has stepped in to help the family replace everything that was lost. The "Relief-4-Blue" foundation was set up with the LSU compliance office and OK'd by the NCAA. It has raised a reported $60,000.
Under NCAA Bylaw 16.11.12, fundraisers are allowed in "extreme circumstances ... extraordinary in the result of events beyond the student-athlete's control."
"It made me feel good that they were helping me out," says Blue. "It makes you see they’re not just using you to play football. It's a family here. If something happens to a family member at LSU, they’re going to help out in any way that they can."
Blue, a sophomore, started off this season quickly, despite the turmoil at home. He scored six touchdowns, including two against Western Kentucky, when he rushed for 119 yards. He missed the game against Arkansas due to an ankle injury, but bounced back to become a dependable back who makes big plays when the Tigers need it most. He's led the team in rushing four times this season, and even helps out on special teams. In the SEC championship game against Georgia, Blue rushed for a touchdown and 94 yards on eight carries. While he may not see the field as much as first stringer Spencer Ware or second stringer Michael Ford, he has seven touchdowns on the season -- just one behind team-leader Ware and tied with Ford.
"It's wonderful," says Blue's father, Alfred, Jr. "It’s actually a real blessing to have a kid with that caliber of talent and the respect that he has as a young man. I'm very very proud of him. You see it all the time and you never think that would happen to you in a lifetime. His mom and I have been very blessed to have a son go on and play college football like he does."
Blue has two years of eligibility left with the Tigers. His father hasn't missed a game, and until the fire, his mother didn't either.
On Monday night, Blue will get his chance again, when the Tigers face Alabama in the BCS title game.
Blue went home just after the fire to see the damage first hand. He traveled back and forth when he could between school and practices to ensure his family was okay. His family coped years ago, and they seem to have done it again, this time stronger than before.
"I think I want to be coach one day," Blue says. "Just to come back and coach a major college team. I would like to be a head coach, but it doesn’t really matter. Just to be a part of a college team. Coaching kids."
Most of Blue's family will most likely be in attendance on Monday. The Superdome is just 30 minutes from his hometown of Boutte, La.
That's not a long drive. But the journey, as everyone in the family knows, has been quite long indeed.
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