Trips to New Orleans - even business trips such as the one the Temple football team is taking this weekend - often result in great memories.

This, however, will not necessarily be the case for defensive back Nate L. Smith when Temple (5-6, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) closes the regular season at Tulane (3-8, 2-5) on Saturday.

Smith, along with his mother and sister, was forced to flee New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area in 2005.

When the destruction was over, over 1,800 people were reported dead. More than $100 billion in damage was estimated.

Smith, who has appeared in all but two games this season, left his hometown for Houston, where he had family. He returned to St. James Parish area a week later, surprised to find that his home had not been destroyed by the storm.

Others, however, were not so lucky.

"We were able to move back home," said Smith, a redshirt sophomore who eventually moved north with his family and graduated from Archbishop Wood High. "But I know a lot of people who couldn't move back. I had some extended family in areas that were hit really bad."

Smith hoped to be Temple's starting free safety this season. However, junior college transfer Alex Wells earned the job during the summer. Smith split time there with Will Hayes after Wells suffered a knee injury in the season opener that kept him off the field until he returned Oct. 17 against Houston.

When he goes back to visit family in New Orleans, it is usually around Christmas. He said he expects to see family and friends at Yulman Stadium.

Smith said that while it's nice to be going home, the goal is for the Owls to leave New Orleans with bowl eligibility.

"That's what we have been focusing on for weeks," Smith said. "I love going home; the food is great and I have a lot of family there. But we won just two games last season. We've had it hard lately trying to get to six wins. But that's still our goal, to get there and see what happens.

"We feel like we control our destiny," Smith said.

That's something he wasn't so sure of in the summer of 2005.

jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer