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Buckeye welcomes opportunity to go home

COLUMBUS (AP) — When the Ohio State Buckeyes arrive in New Orleans on Jan. 2 for the national championship game against LSU, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah will serve as unofficial tour guide.

There are parts of his hometown, however, that he’ll stay away from. Seeing them again is just too painful.

“I’ll take some of my teammates and show them around, show them the sights, but I don’t want them to go far,” he said. “There are some sad places now. There are parts of town that looked like they were destroyed yesterday, not two years ago. There are certain places that will never get back to normal.”

Abdallah cannot wait to get to New Orleans, the city where he was raised after his parents emigrated from the Palestinian territories and built a life around their small store. At the same time, he’s afraid of what he won’t see — the friends who have left, the neighborhoods obliterated, the lives uprooted or even snuffed out when Hurricane Katrina leveled large swaths of the city in August 2005.

His parents’ store in the Third Ward’s Magnolia Projects was officially called LaSalle Market, although it was known as Hulio’s to everyone in the hard-scrabble blocks that surrounded it. Not far from the Superdome, it served as one part grocery and one part social epicenter. People didn’t just buy rice and beans at Hulio’s, they saw their friends and became a part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

But Hulio’s was erased by the hurricane. Abdallah, a junior backup for the Buckeyes, mourns the passing of the colorful setting for his childhood.

“It was one of the worst projects in the world; it was crazy. But the store was never robbed once in 25 years, I guess because people had respect for my family and what they built,” he said proudly. “I was a butcher, stocked shelves, worked the cash register. I worked there since I was 6 years old. I didn’t play football until I was a junior in high school, so that was pretty much my whole life. People came in for Po’ Boys, jambalaya, gumbo. We could serve it all, anything you could imagine. It was an everything-you-need store.”

Now it’s gone, along with much of the culture around it. Gone, too, are so many friends, relatives, and the people he knew on his street.

Abdallah has shared his story, and that of his family and his city, with his teammates. They don’t know exactly what to expect.