During their fall break in 2011, two dozen Fighting Irish athletes traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a week of cleanup after a tornado left 50 dead in the community.

Now, a year and a half later, Notre Dame and Alabama are preparing to play each other for the BCS national championship.

"With the hospitality I had down in Alabama, it became one of my favorite schools," David Jones, a Notre Dame cheerleader, told the Associated Press.

"There’s no hostility, but more karma. You meet all these different faces of the Alabama community. You’re just amazed by them and now you’re playing them."

The weeklong service project, called "Fight for Tide," began when Tim Cavanaugh, assistant director of Alabama's ticket office, called Notre Dame program coordinator Sarah Smith, looking for donations.

"It’s one of those things that when special things arise we try to do something if we have the resources and the interest from the student-athletes,’’ said Smith, adding that a group had traveled to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

"It all just kind of came together for the Alabama trip. A lot of kids were talking about it. We sent a bunch of clothes down there but then the conversation kind of snowballed to, Why don’t we go down there?"

The Notre Dame group, which did not include football player, who were preparing for the 2011 season at the time, cleared out lots, hauled trash, and dug a ditch. Other schools' students and fans also arrived to help.

Tide softball coach Patrick Murphy and a few of his players worked alongside the Notre Dame athletes on a site a few miles from campus in Alberta City and took them to dinner.

"I think they made a lot of fans in Tuscaloosa because that night when we went to eat, there were several people that came up to me and asked what was going on,’’ Murphy said. ‘‘I said, ‘This is a group of Notre Dame student-athletes.’ And people gave me a look like, ‘Notre Dame?’"

"I can remember reading in the newspaper people wrote and said that, ‘Our opinion of Notre Dame has changed tremendously.’ Just a wonderful gesture by these student-athletes. All of us were really touched by it."

Notre Dame fencer Kat Palazzoto pushes a wheelbarrow as she helps cleanup tornado debris in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Oct. 19, 2011.AP