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Gwinnett teams thankful to be practicing this week

Jess Simpson can't remember the last time he hasn't had football practice on Thanksgiving morning.

For the longtime Buford coach it has become a tradition for the Wolves to have an early morning practice before enjoying a turkey dinner later that day.

"If we didn't have that, there would be a lot of hurt feelings around here," Simpson said.

Gwinnett County has nine teams remaining in the state playoffs and many of them had some sort of practice this morning in preparation for Friday's postseason action.

Football practice on Thanksgiving is a badge of honor in Georgia.

While most people are at home prepping for a big Thanksgiving dinner, a special group of football teams are practicing.

It doesn't matter that the second round of the state playoffs falls the day after a holiday. There's still football to be played, games to be won and goals to be achieved.

"This is a goal of ours. We want to be practicing on Thursday," Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said.

Buford is in the playoffs for the 14th straight season, which includes 12 straight quarterfinal appearances. A deep playoff run is normal for the program that has won seven state titles since 2001.

The Wolves have their traditional 9 a.m. practice walk-through and then circle around the B on the field for 15 minutes to tell why they are thankful.

"I'm looking forward to Thursday morning with our annual Thanksgiving tradition that we've been blessed to have for a bunch of years," Simpson said. "This is a great group of kids and I'm thankful to get to spend Thanksgiving with them."

A Thanksgiving practice usually doesn't fall on the week of the second round of the state playoffs. It's typically for only the quarterfinals. But the way the schedule fell this year it has teams worried about X's and O's before stuffing and cranberry sauce.

"We're a week behind on the schedule compared to last year, but it's always great to be playing the week of Thanksgiving," Brookwood senior Adam Ledford said. "There's nothing we would rather be doing, the coaches or the players."

Thursday is typically a light practice for teams during the season. Most squads will go through an on-field walk-through of their plays, defensive formations and special teams, while others will just have a film and meeting session. A Thanksgiving practice can sometimes throw things off.

"It's kind of bad because you're out of sync and out of schedule," Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. "You don't want them laying in bed on Friday until lunchtime."

Coaches try to keep consistency with today's practice. It's just in the morning and not after school with Gwinnett County Public Schools closed all week for the holiday.

"You still have to practice," South Gwinnett head coach John Small said.

Small and his staff began making preparations for a possible Thanksgiving week practice late in the regular season when the Comets clinched a postseason berth. What he told his team was simple. Win in the first round and plan on practicing Thanksgiving day.

"They wanted to practice because they knew it would get them prepared," Small said. "They know they can have turkey anytime during the day."

Blocking assignments and defensive alignments will likely be discussed by players and coaches of Gwinnett's nine remaining playoff teams over pumpkin pie.

It's a time to be thankful. Not only for food, family and health, but to be playing football the week of Thanksgiving.

"It's a special time of year," Jarvis said. "You want to be practicing this week."