Turkey Day on The Hill

The Tennessee Vols have a lot riding on the line this weekend. In addition to Saturday being Senior Day, they will also attempt to defeat Kentucky for the 18th straight time. Not to overemphasize, but a win could possibly secure them a spot to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. So do they really have time to think about eating a big meal and enjoying Thanksgiving? You better believe it.

Over the last decade, Phillip Fulmer and his staff have elevated the Tennessee program to national prominence (although 2002 is a slight exception). One of the things that has helped Fulmer achieve such success is recruiting players from all over the country. Players from such distant points as California and Hawaii have opened their doors to Phillip and his staff. Since so many "kids" come from far away to play for Coach Fulmer, what do these men do when there is no place to go over a quick, festive holiday such as Thanksgiving?

''A couple of guys are coming over to my house, a few are going to some local family homes and some will have their own family in town,'' Coach Fulmer said. ''The local families are usually friends of the players. The NCAA allows for an occasional meal, so some of the players will do that.''

Fulmer had a ready response when asked if he was preparing for any big eaters: "Man, they are all big eaters. Just look around."

Defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Dan Brooks understands that spending the holidays with a group of people you have only known for a few months can be difficult. That's why he and his wife Kathy host a slew of 300-pound defensive linemen over every year for a big-time meal.

''We all get together,'' Brooks said. ''Because it is a family time, they don't all get to go be with their families because of distance. We are their football family, so it is a time to be together and enjoy a good meal. We have them over on Wednesday night. spend time together, eat and don't talk football.''

While Brooks is quite capable of filling his troops' heads with techniques and such, he relies on his wife to fill their stomachs.

''She usually has to do all the fixin's and dessert,'' he said. ''I usually take care of the turkey for her."

Admittedly no Emeril Lagasse, Brooks puts together a pretty good spread for his players.

''We usually go through four or five turkeys and a ham or two every year," he said.

That's because Brooks hosts the defensive linemen, not 170-pound defensive backs and receivers. Last year, in fact, he and Kathy were serving a couple of future first-round defensive tackles in John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth.

"Joe (Henderson) and Albert are healthy eaters,'' he said. ''I believe they went through a whole turkey all by themselves. They both weighed about 310 at the time, so they could put some food away."

Brooks also had to feed the likes of Bernard Jackson, Rashad Moore, Demetrin Veal, Aubrayo Franklin and Will Overstreet last year. His task this year may not be any easier, with some of the same guys coming back.

Brooks says he doesn't give a second thought to the hassle of putting together a giant meal.

''Some places you go, you won't play on Thanksgiving and can go home,'' he said. ''I have been doing this ever since I have been here at Tennessee. It is something my family enjoys and will continue to do as long as I am here and the guys keep showing up."

It's a good bet the guys will ''keep showing up'' as long as the turkey holds lasts.

While Brooks lends his wife a helping hand, defensive coordinator John Chavis admittedly plays no role in Thanksgiving dinner at his home.

''I don't do any of it,'' he said. ''My wife does all the fixing.''

Chavis says having his linebackers over may not be feeding a group like Brooks, but the grocery store still gets to help with the efforts.

''We do the Kroger thing,'' he said. ''We let them prepare turkey and Diane (Mrs. Chavis) will do all the side items.''

While Brooks will do his feast on Wednesday night, Chavis says Wednesday is a big work night for him.

''I am usually in the office until about 1 a.m.,'' he said. "Wednesday is a night where I get a lot of work done, so all my guys will roll in on Thursday afternoon after practice.''

Asked if any players could double-dip between the Brooks home and the Chavis home, he responded: ''I am sure a couple of guys will.''

While many players will spend the holiday with their position coaches, a few players that will enjoy time with their families on Thursday. Tight end Jason Witten will have the advantage of making the short drive to Elizabethton after Wednesday's practice. He will enjoy a family meal, then return to Knoxville on Friday afternoon for the team walk-through in Neyland Stadium.

Defensive back Mark Jones, who is from Wallingford, Pennsylvania, will have his parents in town over the holiday.

''My sister and I share an apartment, so the folks are flying in on Wednesday to be with us,'' he said. ''We will let Mom do all the cooking. We are tired of eating each other's stuff. Nothing beats Momma's cooking."

So, even as the Volunteers prepare for this weekend's battle with Kentucky, they will still find time to push some turkey and dressing down their throats. Hopefully, they'll have all that food worked out of their system by Saturday. Otherwise, "Jumbo" Jared Lorenzen may be telling them how to deal with a sudden weight increase.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family from our family at InsideTennessee.com.

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