Football practice on Thanksgiving is a welcome sight

Football practice on Thanksgiving is a welcome sight

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Football on Thanksgiving is common in Trinity Christian, Bulls, and to some extent even Baker County and Union County.

In Nease, this didn’t happen much at all.

But on Thursday morning it was a full celebration of something that took a long time to prepare. The Panthers haven’t trained since 2007 on Thanksgiving morning, the day before another statewide playoff.

And this season didn’t seem to change that date either.

Neease has been coming off consecutive seasons with one win, even a running joke among the students at school said. No one’s laughing now, especially not in Spruce Creek or Niceville, which are ranked #2 and #3 in the area, respectively, whose seasons were ended by these nameless Panthers.

This next challenge will be the biggest for Nease, as top seed visits Gainesville Buchholz in the District 1-7A final Friday night.

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That’s not all that is available to the domestic teams as the season approaches the finish line.

In Zone 1-5A, Baker County hosts Wakulla. In Zone 1-4A, Paul visits South Walton. Trinity Christian hosts Quincy Monroe Day at 1-2A and visits Union County Chifland at 3-1A. In Class 3A in southern Georgia, Pierce County hosts Beach County in the state quarterfinals.

It is a busy and perilous night. Win or go home.

“It’s fun because we’re here for Thanksgiving because most people don’t get to experience it,” said Trinity line player, Caden Morrell. “But most importantly, we just had to stay locked up and do what we had to do. The team learned, learned offensive tactics, defensive tactics and got ready to play.”


These last four programs in Florida still going strong in the state playoffs look natural.

Union County won three consecutive state titles from 1994-96, a streak that saw it rack up 52 consecutive wins, and second in state history after Lakeland 53. Baker County played for the state championship most recently in 2017 and was an ongoing team beyond last season’s contract.

Bolles and Trinity are the kings of football in the state.

But neez? What year is it again?

The Panthers made a historic run in the mid-2000s when Craig Howard put together an impressive lineup of works. The teams led by Tim Tebow in 2003-05 were outstanding, with the ’05s teams winning the Class 4A state championship. They returned with Ted Stachitas under center in 2006 and 2007 but failed in epic clashes with Tampa Planet and Booker T Washington in Miami.

Nease has been a lead the past two seasons under coach Collin Draughts, winning one game in both years. Linebacker Ben Bogle said the team didn’t instill much confidence with those performances and it was too easy to write off this year’s squad as well. The players knew they were suspicious.


“We have this shirt that says ‘they’ crossed out. It means they weren’t with us when we were 1-9 years old, they hated and made fun of us. Now they want to be fans.” “They want to be with us. And so, I mean, it feels really good that we were able to change the whole culture.”

At Nease, the number of visitors who attended training at 9 am was from former players. Several athletes exited from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 teams to support the current iteration of the Panthers.

“This is something I personally envisioned getting into the Nease three years ago. I knew we could get to that point. We sold the boys the dream and made the plan and they implemented it. It wasn’t just this year,” Draves said.

“I mean, you have about 40 to 50 alumni behind me, and a lot of them played with me in my freshman year in 2019. They kind of did the dirty work, you know, in the first two years. Now, this team in 2021 will be able to reap the rewards. That. Nease is a special place and we are excited to play football now.”


For shows like Bolles and Trinity, Thanksgiving practices are the norm and expectations. The Bulldogs have 11 state championships, the second in state history after St. Thomas Aquinas 12. Trinity has eight, which is fourth in state history. Bulls coach Matt Toblin has had the Bulldogs in the regional final in each of his three seasons.

He said earlier in the week that the team’s arrival at the Thanksgiving hurdle is an opportunity to appreciate the current team’s accomplishments and pay respect to previous teams that came before it.

Verlon Dormini, who has reached 300 career wins this season, has the only title holder in the region. The Conquerors last year won the Class 3A title but are playing in 2A this season. Dormini, who won all eight titles at Trinity, said Thanksgiving week is a special time. students out. It’s a less stressful week with school out and there’s more family atmosphere around the program, with food and alumni visits once again available.


“A lot of it is relaxing and letting your kids enjoy it, you know because they got that far. I tell our kids all the time that Friday night really matters because there’s no Monday if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do on Friday night,” Dormini said. You know, don’t put too much pressure on them, let them play quickly, just make everything very simple and go play football.”

Baker County head coach Kevin Mays failed in a painful regional loss to Rickards last year and said it was up to him and his coaching staff to see how quickly things could turn out.

He’s been part of the many coaching staff that arrive at Thanksgiving Day practices, but each one is unique. Challenge every year – emphasize how precious this time is.

“The kids are living in this moment and it’s tough, but you try to make them realize that, as adults know, their footballing lives here could end at any time,” he said. “Obviously, we want to get them two more games after this game, but just telling them to cherish all these moments, it’s great to be here. There are only eight teams in 5A left training on Thanksgiving and this is a special time.”


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