Meeting with his players before breaking practice, Hartselle High football coach Bob Godsey pointed out a couple of familiar things.
The Hartselle practice field has turned brown, and the Tigers are practicing during Thanksgiving break.
“It’s a special time,” Godsey said. “You know football season has gone well when the grass is brown and you’re still practicing.”
Practicing at Thanksgiving means Hartselle remains in position to defend its state title.
The Tigers (8-4) travel Friday to play top-ranked Muscle Shoals (12-0) in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
Hartselle is one of two area teams still playing football. Class 2A No. 1 Tanner (11-0) travels Friday to play Fultondale.
For Tanner coach Laron White, practicing on Thanksgiving Day has become an old tradition that dates to his high school days.
“I think when I was playing in high school (at Courtland), we practiced on every Thanksgiving that I was there,” he said. “We would always come in early that morning, get a quick practice in, and then my dad (former Courtland coach Louis White) would tell us to spend the rest of the day with our families.”
When scheduling Tanner’s Thanksgiving Day practice, White followed his father’s blueprint. The Rattlers are making a third straight appearance in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
“We’re going to come in early and do about a 45-minute walk through,” White said. “It’s basically the same thing we did last year. We’ve got a couple of kids who’ll be going out of town for Thanksgiving, and we want them to spend this day with their families, because that’s what holidays are about.
“But I also don’t think the kids mind coming up here for an early practice on Thanksgiving, because they know that means we’re moving towards our goal.”
At Hartselle, Godsey’s schedule is slightly different. The Tigers won’t practice today but will hold their pregame walk through Friday morning, instead.
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers aren’t gathering today at the school. The football team has developed a little Thanksgiving tradition that the players want to continue.
“Our players and their families meet at the school in the afternoon for a team dinner,” Godsey said. “Every Thursday, we have a team potluck, but on Thanksgiving everyone usually brings leftovers. It’s a whole lot of fun. Last year, we had some former players come in and speak to the team. Our football program is like a family, and we use this time to remember how thankful we are for those friendships and bonds.”
Hartselle defensive back Tyler Phillips said the Tigers’ Thanksgiving Day potluck has been one of the more memorable highlights of the past few seasons.
“There’s nothing like the potluck dinner,” Phillips said. “All of the parents, all of the siblings, everyone is included. It’s like a huge family gathering. Everyone has a good time. It’s a great environment.
“But that’s what this time of year is about. It’s like Coach (Godsey) always says, this is a special time of the year. We’re one of 18 teams in the state who are still competing, and we’re thankful for that opportunity.”
Both Hartselle and Tanner have proven Thanksgiving plans in place, but with any holiday break, there is always one concern: The distraction caused from breaking a team’s day-to-day routine.
White and Godsey said they don’t think that will be an issue with their veteran teams.
“Breaking routine is something you always worry about with teenagers,” Godsey said. “That can even be a problem for us adults. But this is the third year in a row where we’ve been playing at this time of year, so we’ve got a lot of guys who have been through this and know what to expect. That experience and maturity helps make a week like this go a little smoother.”
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