Most Football Championship Subdivision football players are looking forward to a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving at home with the family.
Most players don’t have a national title to try and win.
For the Georgia Southern Eagles, its business as usual, and practice for the Saturday, Dec. 1 matchup against Central Arkansas will run straight through the holiday and continue through the week leading up to the game.
“I don’t want to have any regrets,” said GSU coach Jeff Monken. “If we get beat by Central Arkansas, I want it to be because they’re the better football team. They may be. They may beat us. But I don’t want it to be because we didn’t prepare, we didn’t practice when we had the opportunity. Our kids understand it. The ones who have been to two semifinals in a row — they know. They know it takes work. It takes an investment.”
It was no surprise for the players to practice on Thanksgiving in 2010, when the Eagles broke a four-year playoff draught in Monken’s first year. The Eagles (7-4 in 2010) didn’t earn a bye and played South Carolina State in the first round, the Saturday after the holiday.
But last season, the Eagles went 9-2, earned a bye, and thought things might be different.
“Last year when we got the bye,” Monken said, “I think some of the guys said, ‘Hey, this is great, we get to go home for Thanksgiving.’”
Not so much.
Every player involved in winning one of Georgia Southern’s division-best six national championships knows all about practicing on Thanksgiving. It’s nothing new to the program.
“This is our 19th playoff appearance, and it’s been the same every time,” Monken said. “Practice on Thanksgiving, practice the next day. And we’re going to keep doing the same thing. It worked for (former coach) Erk (Russell), it worked for Tim (Stowers) and Paul (Johnson) and Mike (Sewak), and it’s worked for us the last two years.”
For the second-straight year, the Eagles (8-3) earned a bye in the first round, so they’ll have two weeks to prepare for UCA — and two weeks to heal.
Backup quarterback Ezayi Youyoute, fullback Dominique Swope, defensive tackle Brent Russell and safety Darius Eubanks have been battling injuries, and cornerback Valdon Cooper dislocated a finger Saturday at Georgia, though remained out of the game only as a precaution.
Russell, who fought a sprained ankle for two weeks before serving a suspension on Nov. 10, against Howard, played against UGA, as did Stanley and Swope, who rushed 17 times for 92 yards against the Bulldogs.
Youyoute was dressed but did not play.
“We really need this time to get healthy,” Monken said. “Being here and being able to get multiple treatments throughout the day is going to be beneficial to those guys to get them healthy.”
Not to mention, an extra week to prep for Central Arkansas (9-2) won’t hurt either.
“We’re going to need it,” Monken said. “This team we’re facing is a great football team. They lost to Ole Miss, and they didn’t get blown out like we did against Georgia. They played them tough. Then they lost in a monsoon against Stephen F. Austin. I mean, it was a torrential downpour. They beat everybody else.”
Thanksgiving won’t take place entirely on the practice field. The players from the area will be able to spend the evening at home before returning Friday morning, and the rest of the team will visit the families of the coaching staff.
“I know I’m glad to be here on Thanksgiving,” Monken said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.