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College football never stops, but it can take a brief pause in spirit of Thanksgiving

By Sean Walker, | Posted - Nov. 28, 2019 at 12:32 p.m.

PROVO — The BYU football team has a lot to be thankful for this time of year.

There’s the promise of a bowl game in Hawaii, right after the little matter of a regular-season finale at San Diego State this weekend (7 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).

There’s also the gratitude of a season that was once on the brink at 2-4, saved by the intestinal fortitude of a five-game winning streak.

For Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake, gratitude comes in the form of a contract extension through the 2023 season — a coaching benefit that may have been in doubt after losses to Toledo and South Florida but now has been earned via meritocracy.

So, there aren’t many reasons not to be grateful over Thanksgiving weekend. And no BYU player will go without during the holidays, either.

“We’ll know where all our guys are at, whether they be at coaches’ or teammates’ homes. All of our players will be taken care of that day, and I expect them to eat a lot,” Sitake said. “They probably won’t participate in Black Friday shopping, but other than that it’s just a week of prepping hard and practicing.”

As students emptied out of campus all week to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday, BYU coaches and players remained. Football never stops, after all, and neither does an NCAA soccer season approaching the quarterfinals Friday, or a women’s volleyball tournament whose selection committee will unveil the full bracket Sunday night.

That’s the case in Provo, as it is on college campuses around the state (and country). That includes Salt Lake City, where the No. 6-ranked Utes are busy with their own preparations for a Senior Day-celebration against Colorado following annual turkey day festivities.

“I’d say it’s the same as every week,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “There’s no change of preparation from week to week, unless it’s a short week. Our mindset is consistent, and I think that’s what you need to be … Every game is equally important.”

There will be time off for Thanksgiving dinner, an easy transition to make for players like BYU's Lopini Katoa from American Fork and Zach Wilson from Draper. The out-of-state players, like D’Angelo Mandell, who hails from the San Diego area, will have a place, too.

“There’s no school, so I get to focus a little bit on football,” said Mandell, who came to BYU as D’Angelo Gunter. “It’s kind of nice.”

And for turkey? Mandell says he’ll probably go to one of his coaches’ homes, or maybe tag along with Wilson or another in-state teammate to spend the evening with their family.

Football is, after all, about family — and nowhere is that more evident than during the holidays. The Cougars will spend most of the Christmas season in Hawaii, with the bowl game scheduled for the afternoon of Dec. 24, so they’ll be used to each other.

Besides, Wilson has extended an open invitation (hopefully his parents don’t mind) to several teammates to join him at his uncle’s spacious cabin in the Park City area.

“I’ll invite anyone that wants to come,” he said. “Any guys on the team who have family out of state or don’t have anywhere to go, they can always come over.”

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