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MCGILL: Church Dinner Provides Football Team Another Reason to Give Thanks

Nov. 21, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.Jaquan Yulee, a redshirt freshman football player at Marshall, is preparing with his teammates this week to face Southern Mississippi this Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

That means Yulee, who hails from Chesapeake, Virginia, is not home for Thanksgiving for the first time. He is not complaining, of course, but the reality of playing major college football in late November hit him Sunday afternoon. The affable rookie took to Twitter to express his sorrow that he’ll miss his grandmother’s cooking this week.

“Being away from home kind of hurts because I’m not there with my family,” Yulee said. “This is the first time I’ve missed Thanksgiving and been away from my Grandma, my Mom and my Dad and everybody.”

The entire Thundering Herd roster can experience these feelings, although the upperclassmen are familiar with the routine. This week, one in which people give thanks for their blessings, the student-athletes will huddle with their teammates and coaches and celebrate Thanksgiving with their football family. That can create special memories for all involved, but the players under the helmets and pads have big hearts that ache when they’re a long way away from family during a holiday.



Thankfully, a football mom at Huntington’s Christ Temple Church realized this over a decade ago. She had a son on the football team and saw so many of her son’s teammates struggle during the week of Thanksgiving because they could not go home. They were far from family and far from the smell of pumpkin pie wafting through their childhood home. This football mom created a new tradition here.

Now, every year on the Monday night before Thanksgiving, the Marshall football team and cheerleaders visit Christ Temple Church and enjoy a meal prepared by the church’s hospitality director and an army of volunteers.

“I was kind of mad I didn’t get my Grandma’s cookin’,” Yulee said. “My grandma’s yams are the best ever, I promise you. They’re so good.

“(The church dinner) was good, too. The ham, the mashed potatoes, the corn – everything was good.”

The hospitality director, Annette Sears, started putting together the meal on Friday. She made 120 pounds of boneless turkey, 120 pounds of boneless ham, 60 pounds of green beans, 60 pounds of corn and so on. The players enjoyed stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese and dessert.

“I added it all up one day – it’s about 1,200 pounds of food,” Sears said. “You have to do boneless turkey because you can’t bake them all. You can’t do it. I’d have to do 60 or 70 turkeys to get enough meat to feed the players.”

Sears has learned how to manage the visits from the massive men who eat at the church once a year. Last year, she learned her lesson by serving the banana pudding in a bowl that was too small. She doubled the portion this year. A couple years ago, the players consumed 80 gallons of tea. She added 20 gallons of lemonade as another drink option this year.

“They didn’t slam the macaroni and cheese like they usually do,” she said Monday night.

After the meal, the seniors gathered on stage to give thanks. They mentioned their coaches, family, teammates and friends. It was three days before Thanksgiving, but the team had its opportunity to gather together, load up their plates and enjoy a traditional holiday meal.

It is a chance for them to feel home when away from home. For that, they are thankful.

The gracious hosts at Christ Temple Church had a positive experience, too.

“Was an honor to help feed @HerdFB players and cheerleaders,” one church volunteer tweeted after the dinner. “So respectful and thankful for everything. Great guys and girls all around!”