Football players understand it is a great thing to have to practice on Thanksgiving Day
It was a surprise late Thursday morning when the pumpkin pie was brought out for the Seton Catholic Cougars.
They had just finished practice, and on this special day, there was a special treat.
The Cougars were not, however, surprised that they were practicing on Thanksgiving Day. The players were thinking about this way back in August.
“We all had this goal to make it past Thanksgiving,” center Houston Wells said. “We were like, ‘We’ve gotta practice on Thanksgiving.’ We all made this goal.”
It is the goal for every high school football team in Washington to be working on the holiday. Players who are still putting on the gear on Thanksgiving Day are in the final four, playing for teams preparing for the state semifinals.
The Seton Catholic Cougars — a program with absolutely zero history of any success in the state playoffs until now — will be playing in the semifinals Saturday at Royal High School. Kickoff is 4 p.m. in Royal City, about a four-and-a-half hour drive from Seton Catholic.
Still, some associated with the program were confused about working on the holiday.
“My mom was shocked,” Wells said. “She said, ‘Why are you practicing on Thanksgiving?’”
His answer: “This is the playoffs.”
This is all new for the Seton Catholic football program. These Cougars have created a new expectation.
Most of the parents understood the situation.
“We were thinking of waking up early and going to the grandparents’ house and having a nice day,” left guard Austin St. Amour said. “I had to tell my mom that we have practice in the morning. She was like, ‘Alright, looks like there’s going to be a change in plans.’”
“My dad was pretty happy,” right guard Garrett Nebels said. “He’s always told me that every football team wants to play on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing.”
Jessan Tillie, the team’s right tackle, said he and his parents have been making plans to work out together every day once the football season ends. Including, Tillie said, on holidays.
Well, this season just won’t end. Seton Catholic had its best regular season in program history, going 8-1, then easily won the district playoff in Week 10. The Cougars, with no previous state playoff experience, were seeded 12th by the seeding committee. That regular season did not mean much, apparently.
But here we are in late November, and Seton Catholic is still playing football. The Cougars held off No. 5 Kings 56-48 in the opening round, then rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter last week to shock No. 4 Cashmere in the quarterfinals, improving to 11-1.
“I had to call my dad after the game to tell him we had to postpone at least one more week,” Tillie said.
Thursday morning before practice, the starting offensive linemen for the Seton Catholic Cougars gathered to discuss this special day, and this special team. The big guys have been getting it done all season.
“When our running back gets stats, it looks good on us,” said Alex Dayoob, the left tackle. “People say it’s only the running back getting stats, but people on the team know it’s a team. It’s not just one person.”
Tillie, Nebels, Wells, St. Amour, and Dayoob stand their ground for the Cougars. When they need a break, Ja’Marcus Robinson and AJ Bradshaw are ready and prepared to do the job, as well.
For linemen, it is all about making sacrifices to allow the team to succeed.
“In the end, it just feels good to be helping somebody else out,” St. Amour said.
“Everything kind of starts with us, especially me as the center,” Wells said. “I get to touch the ball every single (offensive) play. We’re making ways for our QB, our running backs, our wide receivers to score.”
Playing on the line helps one realize that everybody has a job to do, Nebels said.
“You literally have to trust the guy next to you,” added Tillie. “This team has all of that.”
So Thursday was a day of celebration, but it was also a day of work. The Cougars are grateful for the position they are in this week.
“Football on Thanksgiving,” Nebels said when asked what he is thankful for these days.
“Football, family, and my boys,” Tillie said.
“I’m thankful for my line,” St. Amour noted. “These guys put in a tremendous amount of work during the offseason and then during the season. It’s great to see these guys grow, and the whole team in general.”
“My coaches, my team, and being able to play football on Thanksgiving,” Dayoob said.
“The O-line,” Wells added. “And I’m thankful for the Hawaiian rolls I’m gonna tear up later tonight.”
They work as a team to have the offensive line working like a machine. But as individuals, they have different perspectives regarding just when they realized this team could do something special. Of course, the goal to make a long postseason run was always there, but when did they truly believe it could happen?
St. Amour said it was the district playoff game, when Seton Catholic crushed Tenino 51-7 to make it to the state playoffs for the first time.
“We felt we were on a roll. There’s not too much that can be stopping us now,” St. Amour said. “Keep your foot on the gas pedal. Let’s just freaking play the game.”
For Wells, interestingly enough, it was after the team’s only loss. Seton Catholic led eventual league champion La Center for most of the game. La Center rallied and won 14-13. It could have been a devastating defeat. For Wells, it was an inspiring result.
“We showed we could hold up against the biggest and toughest guys out here,” Wells said.
La Center has been the standard in the Trico League for years, and Seton Catholic was one point away from a league title.
Tellie said it was the first round of the state playoffs, when Seton scored 56 against King’s.
“We were the underdog,” Tellie said. “We came out and showed them.”
Nebels said the desire to win has always been with the Cougars.
“All the coaches train us so well on mentality and how to be an athlete,” Nebels said. “We’ve been training to win, to have a winning mentality.”
With only one senior on the team, the belief in themselves was crucial, too.
“We talked about leaving a legacy,” Nebels said.
“Everybody knew that if you were coming to Seton to play football, we were going to start something new,” Wells said. “Pretty much everybody on this team knew we were going to build something new, build a new legacy. We are accomplishing that right now.”
“It’s about building expectations, setting new standards,” Tillie said. “Don’t miss weights. Don’t miss practice. You’re always here. You’re locked in.”
Even on Thanksgiving?
Especially on Thanksgiving.
These Cougars are thankful for the winning attitude of Seton Catholic football.
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