Aphonso Thomas

UMHB running back Aphonso Thomas (5) and his teammates had practice this morning before getting the rest of the day off.

BELTON — Aphonso Thomas has many talents. The Mary Hardin-Baylor junior running back has the power to run between the tackles, the speed to get around the corner and the hands to be a reliable pass catcher.

Whether or not he can add culinary skills to his list of talents depends on the decision he makes today — to cook or not to cook.

“I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with some teammates or maybe one of the coaches,” he said earlier this week. “I feel like I could cook a turkey if I tried. I never have, but I feel like I could do that. This might be the year I have to.”

Thomas was quickly told that the turkey would become part of his UMHB legacy — putting a feather in his cap if it turned out well; giving his teammates a source of never-ending jokes if it was inedible.

Still, he was unfazed.

“I’m very willing to live with the consequences,” he said with confidence. “I feel like Google will help me out a lot with how to cook a turkey.”

Any thoughts of a long-held family recipe were out the window. Instead, the same search engine used to learn how to varnish a deck or repair a shoe would be utilized to “deliciously” cook a large bird for teammates.

It’s not the best thing for a coaching staff to hear just a few days prior to Saturday’s NCAA Division III second-round playoff game between No. 2 UMHB (11-0) and No. 19 Birmingham-Southern (10-1) at Crusader Stadium.

“We’re going to have to coach up that turkey cooking or he could burn some place down. There’s no telling what he might do,” Crusaders receivers coach Steven Thrash said.

Thrash might have to set an extra plate at the table in his house. UMHB senior receiver Brandon Jordan is from Santa Barbara, Calif., can’t be home for Thanksgiving and — unlike Thomas — is confident no one would want to eat what he cooked.

“I might have to stop by Coach Thrash’s house and see about his skills in the kitchen,” Jordan said. “He wouldn’t want me to cook anything, though. I would mess everything up.”

That sounded like a good idea. There couldn’t be that many differences between Thanksgiving in Texas compared to California.

“You have to have turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. That’s about all I eat,” Thrash said. “My family is a bunch of coaches. So it’s nothing but talking about football until the Cowboys kick off, then watching it and continuing to talk about it the rest of the night.”

That’s probably similar to Jordan’s holidays while growing up out West.

“We had the normal food. The Hawaiian rolls — I’d eat about 20 of those — and the mac and cheese were my favorite part,” Jordan said. “We’d watch football. We had to catch the Cowboy game because my mom loves the Cowboys. Might hit the beach afterward and watch the sun set. That’s probably not your typical part of a Texas Thanksgiving.”

So maybe there are a few differences. That’s OK, though. With practices and meetings and all of the preparation needed to be ready to play Saturday, Thanksgiving is a little different for all of the Crusaders.

“I’m not a turkey guy. We eat ham. I love dressing, though. That’s my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, for sure,” UMHB senior quarterback Kyle King said. “This is my first year playing college football during Thanksgiving. I’ll still go home, but it will be a little different because I won’t be there the whole day.”

In the end, though, the Crusaders acknowledge that continuing their quest for a national championship is worth sacrificing a couple of hours today.

Now King just has to hope that his teammate in the backfield found a better offer for Thanksgiving, and that the Google turkey never found its way to Thomas’ table.

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