It's almost as if Thanksgiving was meant as a holiday for football players.
Nestled at the end of a long season, it's a respite from practice and a chance to step back from the game. There's time for a visit home and a rare opportunity to watch football on
And of course, there's the food.
"I'm going to eat good," sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree said. "I haven't had a home-cooked meal in a long time."
The football team had a team dinner on Wednesday evening to celebrate the holiday while most students around campus were on their way home. The Wildcats then practiced on Thursday morning as they normally do. Players not on the travel squad who won't be making the trip to Tennessee on Saturday were dismissed for the season then and allowed to go home for the holiday weekend. For them, the season is over.
Those players who will be going to Tennessee have to stay close. They split up, with players who are from close by heading home for the holiday. Many of them take teammates home with them for dinner, but other players will spend the day celebrating at a coach's house. They're required to report back to campus by 1:30 on Friday to prepare for the trip to Knoxville.
Head coach Joker Phillips will have about 50 family members over to his house on Thursday afternoon. They'll spend time volunteering and serving meals in Lexington before coming back to his home for a Thanksgiving dinner.
"I'm always thankful for everything I have and everything I've been given," Phillips said. "I've been given good health, a clean mind, and I feel good about what we've done here. Doing things the right way and that's what was important to me. More important to me, we've been able to touch a lot of lives. I'm very thankful."
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach West, who is from Lexington, will go home on Thursday. He'll eat Thanksgiving dinner with about a dozen family members and four of his teammates. And while cooking a Thanksgiving feast is a task for any family, things become much more difficult when football players are involved.
"The four guys alone will probably need at least two (turkeys)," West said. "Then we might have another one for the rest of the family."
When it comes down to it, every player and coach has his own favorite dish.
"I've got to have some fried turkey, collard greens and macaroni," junior defensive tackle Donte Rumph said.
"Chitlins. We eat them at home," Dupree said. "Chitlins with collard greens, in the real south."
"My mom makes a sweet potato casserole that has ginger snap toppings on it and puts it in the oven," West said. "It's delicious. She puts the marshmallows on it. Man, it's good."
"My mom makes a chocolate cheesecake that could win some awards," offensive lineman Steven Duff said. "It's rich. It's pretty good, but you can only get a couple slices of it down."
"I eat everything waiting to get to the pecan pie," offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "Everything I do is a prelude to pecan pie."
Pecan pie is also a favorite of Dupree. During Thanksgiving of his junior year in high school, he ate an entire pecan pie by himself. Unbeknownst to him, Rumph downed an entire cheesecake by himself on the same day.
They'll both head home with defensive line coach David Turner. His wife Yvette began making preparations for Thanksgiving on Tuesday. She got reinforcements from her mother on Wednesday. Then Turner fries a pair of turkeys after practice on Thursday.
"My biggest fear is running out of food," Turner said. "We've never done that. We've always had extra to give them some takeout. I want to make sure we have enough for those guys, so they can eat all they want."
Defensive end Collins Ukwu has been asking Turner about Thanksgiving all week. Rumph said junior defensive tackle Mister Cobble is the biggest eater among the defensive linemen, but his offensive counterparts look forward to the holiday with a particular delight.
"I think the offensive linemen are more experienced eaters," Summers said. "They know how to pace themselves better than the defensive linemen. I think the defensive linemen tend to jump out there too fast and get full too fast, whereas the offensive linemen can hang in there for a longer period of time. In the end, their experience will allow them to consume more food."
Thanksgiving is more than just a chance for players to relax and indulge sdkjashlbasd. It's also the last time some of them will be together before the game's final season. When the coaches and players part ways after this season, memories of Thursday might be among the last times they spent together.
"It's never hard to find something to be thankful for," West said. "Whether or not we're having a losing season, everyone here is living a blessed life. College is paid for and you can come out here and play a sport that not everybody gets to do at a high level. We're still playing in the SEC and you have a huge family and coaches that care about you. It's easy to find things to be thankful for."