TEMPLE, Texas — Ask most high school football coaches to name their team's goals in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, and most will mention a desire to still be competing during Thanksgiving Week. However, during a season riddled with COVID-19, several will say this year, they're grateful to still be playing at all.
In a typical season, Thanksgiving Week falls somewhere around the regional semifinal round of the playoffs. Therefore, in order to play on Thanksgiving, schools usually have to be one of the Top 16 teams in their classification.
However, as a result of the pandemic, Class 5A and 6A programs across the state were forced to delay their seasons by one month, meaning this year, all schools in those classifications are still competing this week, even if they have yet to win a game this season.
"Usually, one of our goals is to play on thanksgiving, and another one of our goals is to play into December," Temple Head Coach Scott Stewart said. "Because of the COVID situation and because it pushed the season back, I guess everyone's there now, but it's still a special time."
Stewart and the Wildcats clinched a 12-6A district title last week by beating second-place Shoemaker. They finish the season Friday night against Killeen High School.
Players say the uncertainty surrounding the season makes playing on Thanksgiving even more special.
"It's a huge blessing," Temple senior receiver Luke Allen said. "We didn't even know if we were gonna get to this point with COVID going on, so we're just so excited to be out here together."
For smaller schools playing in the 1A-4A classifications, the high school football calendar falls in line with its typical schedule.
Rogers High School is preparing to play in its second straight regional semifinal game. Last year, they were blown out by Gunter on the day after Thanksgiving.
"The senior class last year and the one before that really did a great job at showing us what it takes," senior lineman Ty Sebek said. "I think we're just passing the torch."
While the dates and the stakes remain the same as a season ago for teams like the Eagles, Head Coach Charlie Roten said COVID has made playing during the holiday a little less special.
"This year, it hasn't been really unique," Roten said. "We started [school] two weeks later and then our first week of the playoffs, we were out of school. So, it's kinda become a second nature for us."
On a day devoted to giving thanks, though, Roten and the entire Eagles squad said they are grateful to still be on the field, no matter what the circumstances.
"I'm so grateful," Rogers senior Ben Hutka said. "Me and Ty [Sebek] here, we've been playing here since seventh grade, and I wouldn't trade it for the world right now."
If you ask the players out on the field Thursday morning, most echoed that sentiment.
"It's what you play for. You're ready to go hit a little bit and then go eat some turkey," Sebek said.
Rogers plays Buffalo for a spot in the regional finals Friday night at Waco ISD Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.