Beyond food and family — and being thankful for things, of course — football might be the most recognizable thing about Thanksgiving, ranking right up there with the Mayflower, pilgrims and Native Americans.
And for 11 area high school teams privileged enough to still be competing for a state championship, Thursday’s holiday was merely a blip on the radar in a week otherwise filled with football.
“It’s a special week for us,” third-year Independence coach Scott Blade said. “We’re out of school this whole week, so getting the kids up at a certain time and getting them out of bed when their friends are still sleeping is tough, but they know this is a special time.”
Independence (13-0), which hasn’t been alive this late in the playoffs since the program’s 2007 runner-up finish, hosts Williamson County rival Centennial on Friday — a team it defeated 49-6 on Aug. 28.
“They understand that it’s new territory and it’s a different type of preparation,” Blade added.
This week has been a first for Centennial (13-1) as well.
With last week’s 25-0 triumph over Henry County, fifth-year coach Brian Rector and the Cougars clinched their first semifinal appearance in the program’s 19-year history.
“I think every coach in the state and in the country likes to be playing on a week that is as special as Thanksgiving,” Rector said. “It means, A, you’re doing pretty good as a team, and, B, there’s just no other week like it … The break from the regular routine, while there’s challenges to it, it’s also really cool.”
Change of pace
With Williamson County Schools out all week for the holiday, this week’s practice schedules were altered for both squads. The Eagles met and practiced for three hours each morning this week.
“Get up and get it out of the way,” Blade said. “The rest of the day they can chill out and kick back and do whatever they want.”
The Cougars practiced at their normal afternoon time on Monday and Tuesday, but opted to move Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices to the morning in order for the players to have more time to spend with their families.
“We’ll bring them back in Friday morning to make sure they don’t sleep all day,” Rector said. “A good football team stays motivated and stays focused, and I think that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
Ravenwood, Oakland, Pearl-Cohn, Marshall County, Christ Presbyterian Academy, Columbia Academy and Nashville Christian are also fortunate enough to have mixed football with the holidays this week as they prepare for semifinal matchups of their own.
During Ravenwood’s Thursday morning practice, which was preceded by a team breakfast, the players’ families were welcomed to participate in a two-hand touch football game in the opposite end zone while the Raptors completed their walk-through.
“It’s a cool experience that we don’t get very often,” Raptors coach Will Hester said.
CPA, which hosts unbeaten Liberty Magnet on Friday, also practiced early Thursday morning but was finished by noon.
“They want us to spend the time with our families,” CPA senior Wallace Barrett said. “They for sure try to make us not gorge out on Thanksgiving. We’ve got to watch it if we want to not be slowed down by it.”
Brentwood Academy and Montgomery Bell Academy are both still alive as well, but those two Division II-AA schools won’t play again until the BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville on Thursday, Dec. 3.
Keep it light
It’s hard to imagine overdoing it on the one day when you’re essentially encouraged to do so, but that’s precisely what the coaches asked their players.
They weren’t talking about starvation, though — more like moderation.
“Sometimes I don’t want them to eat too much,” said Pearl-Cohn coach Tony Brunetti, whose Firebirds will be facing Memphis East in the squad’s second straight Class 4A semifinal appearance. “You’ve got to be careful with all the sweet stuff, but a good meal won’t hurt anybody.”
CPA coach Ingle Martin added, “You don’t want to just roll yourself over and fall asleep after, which is what we all want to do. Playing on Friday after Thanksgiving is a great honor, and we try to coach them up a little bit on what to eat, what to drink and all that stuff.
“Go and enjoy your meal, but don’t gorge yourself.”
It’s something Rector talked about with his own team. He’s not convinced his kids heard the message, though.
“I think it’s probably a bit of a stretch to tell a teenager, ‘Hey watch what you eat,’” Rector said.
“Sure, I’d like the kids to eat sensible on Thanksgiving, but I’d also like to be able to bench press a Volkswagen. Neither one of those things are probably going to happen.”
FRIDAY’S MIDSTATE PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
All games begin at 7 p.m. local time
Class 6A: Whitehaven (12-1) at Ravenwood (12-1)
Class 6A: Oakland (12-1) at Maryville (13-0)
Class 5A: Centennial (12-1) at Independence (13-0)
Class 4A: Marshall County (12-1) at Knoxville Catholic (9-4)
Class 4A: Memphis East (12-1) at Pearl-Cohn (9-4)
Class 3A: Liberty Magnet (13-0) at CPA (12-1)
Class 1A: Columbia Academy (12-1) at Greenback (11-2)
Class 1A: Peabody (11-2) at Nashville Christian (12-1)