MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The holidays are unique for many major college football players.
After usually spending the first 18 or so years of their lives surrounded by family during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the football student-athletes often spend the holidays in preparation for late regular-season games during the week of Thanksgiving and for bowl showdowns during Christmas.
It goes with the territory.
Two days after Thanksgiving in their regular-season finale at Kansas (2-9), the 5-6 Mountaineers will try to reach the six-win mark that brings bowl eligibility.
There are no classes at WVU during Thanksgiving week. Thus the focus of the Mountaineer grid squad can be completely on football, though it’s not 24/7 pigskin.
“This is my favorite week of the season for a couple reasons,” noted West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “One, it’s really the only time – other than fall camp – when we have our guys and it’s all football. There is no class all week.
“We also get to spend some time with them away from the game,” continued the coach. “Wednesday the players will have dinner at their position coach’s house to try to give them some semblance of home. Then Thursday we do a big team-wide Thanksgiving meal here (at the Puskar Center). So, it’s a time of the year where we get to spend time with our guys, and it’s not just Xs & Os, practices and meetings.”
While certainly football will be the main focus leading up to Saturday, for the Mountaineers thoughts of Thanksgiving meals both past and present are also part of the week.
“I love my mom’s cooking. Not being biased, but she’s probably the best cook in the world, honestly,” stated sophomore wide receiver Sam James emphatically. “Ask my teammates; they’ve had her cooking before.
“Everything she makes is great, especially at Thanksgiving,” the Richmond Hill, Georgia, native continued, raving over his mother, Shileyann. “I love her macaroni and cheese, and the oxtails she makes are a favorite.”
Everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to food, and that’s true of the Thanksgiving traditionals as well.
“I’m not a turkey guy,” noted sophomore receiver Winston Wright. “I like ham, macaroni, things like that.”
Tastes also evolve over time.
“I didn’t like stuffing when I was young, but I do now,” noted WVU redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jalen Thornton. “Pumpkin pie, I didn’t like that either, but I do now. Any type of dessert is pretty good.”
Wright does miss his family back in Savannah, Georgia, during the holidays, but he also views his fellow Mountaineers as family.
“It’s special being around my teammates this time of year, playing football and doing something I love,” explained the sophomore receiver.
The United States isn’t the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving. Canada also has a Thanksgiving holiday, though it is observed in early October. In most other ways, though, the two Thanksgivings are the same.
“We have Thanksgiving in Canada,” defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor of Ottawa, Canada, explained. “It’s very similar – turkey and such.
“I love turkey, and I love stuffing. I will eat half of a pumpkin pie by myself,” added Mesidor. “I love pumpkin pie with lots of whip cream on it, maybe some ice cream.
“I have a sweet tooth,” admitted the 6-foot-2, 272-pound redshirt freshman with a twinkle in his eye. “Most of my meal will be sweets.”
Thanksgiving week for the Mountaineers comes with all the trimmings, plus a very important football game in Kansas.