HomeSportsTurkey time: BYU football ready to enjoy the holiday while staying focused

Turkey time: BYU football ready to enjoy the holiday while staying focused


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Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

BYU offensive lineman Connor Pay (70) jogs across the field with other linemen during fall camp in Provo on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.

It’s going to be crowded at the Pay household when BYU junior offensive lineman Connor Pay joins his family for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday afternoon.

“My family is pretty large so it’s pretty rare for everyone to be together in one place at the same time,” Pay said. “We’ll get close this year. We won’t quite have everyone, but it’s a time of the year that everyone sets aside to have the family together. It gets harder and harder to do every year.”

He said that even though his family is in the area, he’s spent a couple of recent Thanksgivings with Cougar teammates because his parents have been out of town. That means he’s looking forward to Thursday even more.

“We always make sure everyone has a place to have Thanksgiving,” Pay said. “Maybe we’ll have some at my house this year. Everyone gets taken care of.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has always emphasized gratitude with his players, but the holiday week gives him another reason to bring it up.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Sitake said. “We want to still have an attitude of appreciation and gratitude. What a great opportunity we have to play the game on this weekend after Thanksgiving, to reflect on what we’ve been blessed with, the opportunities that we have and the people we have around us.”

Cougar senior defensive lineman Atunaisa Mahe said Thanksgiving is one of the times every year where he looks beyond the grind of homework and practice.

“I feel like it gives me a chance to reflect, not just on the season but on life in general,” Mahe said. “I’m going to be able to go home and spend time with my family. It’s been a minute since I’ve been able to do that, since I’ve been so busy with school and football. I need to step back and enjoy it. It’s definitely a great opportunity to step away from football.”

While this week is different than others during the season — Pay said how he loves that there is no school on Thursday and Friday — BYU still needs to be fully prepared for Saturday’s regular-season-ending showdown with Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. (1:30 p.m. MT, ESPN).

“It’s the last week of the regular season and it comes down to our record being 5-6,” Sitake said. “We want to extend our season and be bowl eligible which means we need to win this one. At the same time, you want to make sure you don’t jump just to the results but focus on the standard, the values you have, and you’ll get the results that you want. I’m looking forward to seeing our guys play this last game of the regular season and trying to find a way to extend our season so we can enjoy what comes with bowl games which is the extra practices and time together.”

Sitake explained that the Cougars have a plan in place to both get ready to play and enjoy the holiday.

“We’ll practice on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, then have a team dinner on Wednesday night,” Sitake said. “That way we can have two Thanksgivings this week. Then we will practice in the morning on Thursday but be done by the afternoon so the players can go spend time with their families. Those who aren’t from around here will go to coach’s homes or teammate’s homes to enjoy Thanksgiving. That’s the plan, and then we will fly out on Friday.”

He added that leaving Friday is standard practice for a game that is a one-hour time zone difference, explaining that the team usually leaves on Thursday for a game that is a two-hour time zone change.

While football demands a lot of the athletes and there are plenty of other distractions (transfers, NIL, coaching changes, etc.), BYU sophomore defensive back Jakob Robinson said he thinks it’s still important to be thankful.

“I don’t think it’s that hard to be grateful,” Robinson said. “We’re grateful just to play this sport and to have everything we have here at BYU. It’s nice to have my family here close to me and to have great teammates and roommates.”

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the Cougar players sing the fight song with the fans after the game against Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2023.


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