ALLIANCE, Ohio -- From parades and feasts headlined by turkey and mashed potatoes to family and football, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about tradition.
And no one knows that tradition better than the University of Mount Union, where preparing for an NCAA Division III postseason football game is a rite of passage as fall gives way to winter.
“It’s a bonding experience,” Mount Union head coach Vince Kehres said. “We’re here together. We’re practicing. We’re having meetings. We’re having meals together. We’ll have a meal together on Thanksgiving Day. There’s just not enough time to cut everybody free and get them to go home. We’re going to use it to our advantage.”
Although spending time away from family is difficult, for those who have been through Thanksgiving week practices, they have found the journey worth all the sacrifices.
“I think it takes a lot, and you kind of learn that from the guys that have been there before,” senior running back Bradley Mitchell said.
“My freshman year, when I got here, I wasn’t accustomed to this. It was all kind of new to me, but being a senior and going through it before, you kind of get a feel for what it takes. It takes a lot out of you, but it’s all worth it in the end.”
While Mount Union have experience practicing on Thanksgiving, what the players and coaches are not used to doing is heading to a bus after a Friday walk-through for a trip to a game.
After losing to Ohio Athletic Conference rival John Carroll University in the final week of the regular season, the Purple Raiders had to wait for an at-large bid into the tournament and began the quest for their 13th national championship on the road for the first time since 1994.
As such, Mount Union went on the road for the first its first true postseason road game since 1996, which turned into a 38-21 win over Hobart College.
“We were excited to have the opportunity to play in Week 11, and we played a great team in Hobart, had to handle the trip up there,” Kehres said. “It was a difficult game, certainly, a four-quarter game. We had to battle our way through, but it felt good to get out of there with a win.
“We’ve had to handle adversity now two weeks in a row. I think it’s made us a tougher team. We’re a team that’s had its back against the wall and now, has responded.”
With the win over Hobart, the Purple Raiders earned a second-round game against Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Saturday. And the Purple Raiders are ready to take the bond created through struggles with the loss to John Carroll and road trips across the northeast.
“It can bring your team closer together,” Kehres said. “You’re travelling together in the bus and you’re in the hotel together, eating together. That was a good bonding experience for our team, and we want to build on that and build on that road-warrior mentality.”