The Naples High football team and some of its former players gather on the field following Thanksgiving night practice. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Bill Kramer started the Thanksgiving night practice at Naples High School for one simple reason (and it wasn’t to help hulking linemen like Dorian Hinton burn off the eight plates of turkey and trimmings consumed earlier in the day).
“I wanted to give the players as much time with their families on the Thanksgiving break,” said Coach Kramer, whose Golden Eagles (11-1), despite the unusual practice time, held their usual walkthrough as they prepared to host North Fort Myers (9-3) in Friday night’s Class 6A regional title game.
“So we practice Wednesday morning — because there’s no school Wednesday — and we don’t come back til Thursday night. That way, if they had to go to Miami or Arcadia or wherever to see family, they were close enough to do that and get back and still get to the walkthrough.”
Now in his 21st season as Golden Eagles coach, Kramer and the trusted coordinators he brought with him to Naples, Sam Dollar (defense) and Paul Horne (offense), have presided over many a Thanksgiving night practice. Playing in late November (and early December) is more of the norm around Naples High, as the Golden Eagles have advanced to the regional finals 11 times since 2001.
Somewhere along the line — “years ago,” Kramer said — the practice morphed into much more than a simple walkthrough. Former NHS players began to show up, and the run-of-the-mill walkthrough transformed into a celebration of excellence — understated as it may be.
“That just started up on their own,” said Kramer, who added that the Golden Eagles will continue another Thanksgiving weekend tradition of gathering at Mel’s Diner on Friday morning for a team breakfast. “They just started showing up, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, come on.’ That wasn’t a thing.”
After Thursday’s practice, Kramer gathered Naples High players past and present near midfield. They shook hands, talked for a moment, then listened as Kramer delivered a speech before all joining in prayer.
The support that former NHS players showed the current crop of Golden Eagles wasn’t lost on star senior running back Chez Mellusi.
“It’s great. We do this for them,” said Mellusi, who soon enough will be signing to play for Clemson University next fall. “It’s kind of like their legacy living on. When (last year’s group) graduated, we kind of promised them something — next season, we were going to do even better, or achieve our ultimate goal … the state championship.”
Several Naples players — Mellusi, linebacker Marc Viechec, running back Elan Sommala, defensive end Jet Su and offensive lineman Dorian Hinton — were asked about their Thanksgiving meal earlier in the day. (Kramer said there were no calorie restrictions — “Have at it,” he said, “it’s Thanksgiving; we’re Americans.”)
ARE YOU A TURKEY OR SIDE DISH GUY?
Mellusi: Sides. (“You can’t go wrong with stuffing. I like mashed potatoes and gravy.”)
Viechec: “I eat everything. It’s all good, bro.” (He did say, he’s partial to the turkey.)
Sommala: “I’m more of a side item guy. I like mashed potatoes and gravy.”
Su: “I love everything — turkey, stuffing … .”
Hinton: “Everything. I love everything.”
HOW MANY PLATEFULS DO YOU EAT?
Mellusi: Three of four.
Viechec: “I ate two today. I coulda ate more, but we had practice.”
Sommala: Two or three.
Su: Four or five.
Hinton: Eight. (“My grandma and my mom … they cooked a lot.”)
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