Before the Thompson High football players dug into some turkey and dressing on Thursday, they worked on refining a game plan.
Fortunately, that’s becoming a Thanksgiving tradition for the Warriors.
In high school football, practicing on Thanksgiving means you’re still alive in the postseason. In Alabama, at least in AHSAA Class 7A, it means you’re one step away from the state championship game. For the second year in a row, the Warriors’ earned a trip to the Class 7A semifinals to play perennial power Hoover, which gives them an opportunity for a special practice with their football family.
“Really, in the state of Alabama, the emphasis on football, you really try to find yourself in position to play in November,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman. “To be practicing on Thanksgiving is something special. In 7A, there are only four of us practicing.”
The 90-minute practice session on a chilly Thanksgiving morning was far from strenuous. Most of the heavy lifting was done earlier this week. Thursday was about running through the game plan – on offense, defense and special teams – one final time.
“I think our kids would have been fine today, not even having a walkthrough,” Freeman said. “We’ve had a great week of practice. It won’t come down to us not knowing what we’re supposed to do and what we need to do. We understand (the game plan). They want to practice on Thanksgiving, so we practiced.”
The truth is that Thompson and Hoover know very well what the other will offer on Friday night at the Hoover Met. There will be some small tweaks here and there to each of the team’s game plans. But it’s hard to imagine that there will be any big surprises in the teams’ fourth matchup in the past 12 months.
From a preparation standpoint, Thompson said his team will draw from the experiences of last November when the Bucs punched a ticket to the AHSAA Class 7A state championship game with a 31-12 win over the Warriors at Larry Simmons Stadium.
“I really think it helps a lot,” Freeman said. “They’ve been there, this is not the brand new shiny car it was last year. We’ve got some miles on it now. I think, from a preparation standpoint and from a handling the situation standpoint it’s much different. Last year, I think there were some who thought, ‘What are we supposed to do with Thanksgiving? How do you approach that game?’ Now, it’s Thanksgiving, we’re supposed to be practicing. Tomorrow night, it’s business, it’s not a reward.”
Thompson will look to reverse the outcome from the third game of the season when Hoover jumped out in front quickly, staved off a Warrior rally and emerged with a 45-26 victory.
Both teams have evolved since that Sept. 7 evening.
“Not having success the first game at Hoover, we learned a little bit about some of our players – not from a fault standpoint, but we learned that we could count on a little more from some and that we had some we probably needed to move somewhere else,” said Freeman, whose team beat talented Hewitt-Trussville twice in the past four weeks. “As we went through the year, you think about the weeks you’ve come through. Now you’ve got to play Hoover (again). They are loaded with talent. I think we’ve got some kids at different positions that will give ourselves a better chance to win right now.”
One thing that didn’t change this week was the Warriors game week approach.
“While it’s Hoover, we’re approaching our end of it like, ‘What can we control?’” Freeman said. “I think our kids have do a good job of understanding that we’re all we can control. Hoover might come out tomorrow and play their best game. We can’t control that. Or they might play their worst game. We can’t control that. It is Hoover. Logistically, you understand for the last 20 years, they’ve been the team that somebody had to beat to go play for a state championship. But we don’t approach them any different than we did Trussville last week. Our preparation has been the same. We’re preparing ourselves as players and coaches to go play a ballgame.”