In Shoreham, Thanksgiving is largely about family, food and football — just like many other parts of America. But for the Shoreham-Wading River High School football program, it’s rarely about just watching the NFL slate of games. The Wildcats are typically starting way earlier than that.
Shoreham-Wading River will be playing in its sixth Long Island Class IV championship in the last eight years when the Wildcats play North Shore (9-2) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium.
Aside from inserting gameplans and studying film of its Nassau foe, championship week means practice Thanksgiving morning. The players wouldn’t have it any other way.
"This will be my third Thanksgiving practice and the way I think about it is on Thanksgiving you are supposed to be with your family and I’m with my family on Thanksgiving," said senior offensive and defensive lineman James Provencher. "It’s amazing being with these kids, they truly are my family. There’s no one else I’d rather be with on such a special day."
"It’s always special to have a Thanksgiving practice because if you have a Thanksgiving practice, you know you made it far," added senior H-back and outside linebacker Dylan Kiely. "It’s real cold out and we like it when it’s cold."
Shoreham-Wading River (10-1) has won seven of the last eight Suffolk Division IV crowns, but there were no Long Island championships last season because of the scheduling adjustments thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wildcats finished 6-0 in the spring and believe if they were able to play for the Long Island championship, they could be taking the field looking to win its fourth-straight title Saturday.
"We’re all ready to go," Kiely said. "We’re ready to show deserved that ring last year. We didn’t get the chance, we had a real good team and I think we could have done it last year, too. We’re going to do it for the guys last year that couldn’t and the ones here now."
The winning tradition is important to the Wildcats. Every team evolves and finds motivations in different ways. This fall, Shoreham-Wading River was No. 2 in the preseason seeding and lost to Bayport-Blue Point, which entered No. 1, in the regular season. But the Wildcats avenged that loss with a 26-23 victory over Bayport-Blue Point in the Division IV final.
"We’re ready," said senior offensive and defensive lineman Anthony Giordano. "We think we proved who we were in that last game and silenced a lot of doubters and now we have to go finish the job. The job’s not done."
Shoreham-Wading River, winners of the last four Suffolk Division IV titles, has won four of its five Long Island championship appearances since 2014.
"We all grew up watching those teams," said senior running back and safety Max Barone. "We all had the dream of being as successful as them."
"We always try to keep the legacy going," added senior offensive and defensive lineman Aidan Clifford. "You don’t want to be that team that doesn’t win."
The players enjoy seeing the excitement and enthusiasm from the community during football season. Whether it’s going to the deli or just walking around town, someone is always there with congratulations on a big win or to wish good luck for the following week.
"Everyone knows there is a history in Shoreham for football and every year, we’re always a winning team," junior quarterback and linebacker Dylan Zahn said. "It’s that much pressure but we take that on us and know we have to do it for the program and everybody."
That winning tradition and legacy are vital to the program.
"I think it’s important to them and at this point, they’ve committed themselves to uphold that tradition," coach Aden Smith said. "I think it’s something they want to keep alive so they can pass that forward to the next group of seniors that will inherit it."
That includes another Thanksgiving tradition — football practice.
"It’s something to look forward to, it’s always a good practice," Giordano said. "You get to look forward later in the day to hang out with your family, but the way I look at it, that morning starts with my family here and making sure we get our work in and get better."