This time last year, York football coach Bobby Carroll was holed up in a tree stand somewhere in the woods waiting on a big buck, offensive assistant coach Grady Baggett was recovering from several helpings of his wife’s “Death By Chocolate” down in Simpsonville, and junior lineman Caleb Clayton sat around the dinner table and talked about football with his family.
But the Cougars (11-2) don’t have to just talk about football this Thanksgiving. They play Greenwood (9-4) Friday night in the 4A Division II semifinal with a shot to advance to the school’s first 4A state title game.
“It’s a blessing to be out here practicing because not many teams in the state are,” said Clayton as he left Wednesday’s practice.
Carroll wasn’t smiling much during an intense practice, one the coaches divided into two halves to simulate Friday night’s game. The Cougars haven’t played consistently in third quarters this season, so Carroll wanted to replicate the feeling of an actual game.
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Part of Carroll’s annoyance stemmed from the logistical conundrums Thanksgiving week carries. With school out, the Cougar players were spread all over the school’s huge district.
“We’ve got kids that live on the Chester County line, the Cherokee County line, out by Lake Wylie, and rides are our biggest concern,” said Carroll, who has led York to at least 10 wins in each of his four seasons in charge. “Just a couple came late.”
On a day for being thankful, Carroll can handle the minor headache.
“It’s a great thing to be practicing for a Turkey Bowl,” he said, smiling after Wednesday’s get-together.
After Thursday’s short morning practice, the attention turned, like everyone else’s, toward the grub.
“This year I can’t really eat that much. I’m just gonna take it light,” Cougar quarterback Deshaw Andrews said, grinning.
Andrews has been “eating” all season on the field, as the young folks say. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior has completed 73 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. None of those picks have come in the last three games, wins in which the Cougars have averaged 36 points.
Andrews wasn’t the only one that was going to limit the Thursday feasting. Last year wide receiver Trinity Shannon ate “turkey, you already know. A little bit of ham, macaroni, dressing, and a little cranberry.” Asked about his post-dinner nap, Shannon said, “oh, I slept all night.”
The coaches aren’t immune from Turkey Day pig-outs. Baggett’s wife made “Death by Chocolate” last year, a dessert he’ll never forget.
“It’s got whipped cream, brownies, chocolate pudding in it, she mixes it all together,” he said.
He won’t be dying by chocolate this year, though, in part because his wife will take Thanksgiving dinner with her family in Memphis. Baggett had football obligations.
Really, the coaches could eat what they want; the players might not eat quite as much as they normally do, maybe shirking that third or fourth plate. And they won’t be sleeping in Friday like they normally would; the players are scheduled to check in at the school early Friday morning for breakfast, basically a ploy to get them out of bed.
“Some people stay up late then they sleep late,” said Carroll. “Then it’s a two-hour bus ride and you never get going. I don’t know what the “T” word is in turkey that makes you lethargic; you know what it is, you can look it up.”
Tryptophan: the word that’s not only hard to remember, but will also stop a state title run dead in its tracks. Fortunately for York, Carroll and his staff have more than a little practice with Turkey Bowl week. The head coach estimated this was his 10th or 11th Turkey Bowl.
“We got a good protocol, we’ve just got to teach these guys how to do it,” said Carroll. “A lot of these guys, this is their first time.”
After hunting with his brothers last Thanksgiving, Carroll said he went to a semifinal game the next night as a spectator. He’ll have one of the best seats in the house this Friday.