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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Share Thanksgiving Dinner With Teammates and Guests

by on November 24, 2011 5:45 PM

At the Penn State football team’s Thanksgiving Day team dinner on campus on Thursday, defensive tackle Devon Still looked down at a bowl of seven strawberries and smiled.

“I’m 303 pounds now,” said the senior from Wilmington, Del., “and since we have a game two days from now, I really need to be 303 pounds at the end of the day.”

That game, this Saturday against Wisconsin, certainly has weighty consequences for the Nittany Lions (9-2 and 6-1 in the Big Ten).

They travel to Madison on Friday to face the Badgers (9-2, 5-2) the next day. The winner will claim the Big Ten Leaders division title and a berth in the first Big Ten championship game vs. Legends division winner Michigan State on Dec. 3.

So there was plenty of motivation to watch his weight for Still, a finalist for the Bednarik, Outland and Nagurski awards and the Big Ten leader in solo tackles. After the strawberries and a glass of apple cider, Still was planning on having a plate of turkey with all the trimmings.

But his holiday gastronomical adventures didn’t end there.

Still and some teammates were having a second dinner later at the home of defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. And then Still was thinking about going over to the apartment of James Terry, another lineman from Delaware, just to make sure he got the proper Still fill of filling.

“My mom and my family are driving up here right now, and bringing along all the things I like – mac ‘n’ cheese, turkey, string beans,” said Terry, who along with his roommate Stephfon Green, a native New Yorker, planned host about a dozen teammates and family later on Thursday.

A table away from Still and Terry sat running back Silas Redd of Norwalk, Conn.

“Best thing on the menu?” said the 209-pounder, rolling his eyes toward his plate. “Look.” The Big Ten's No. 3 rusher was happily presiding over a plate overflowing with a three-inch high pile of mashed potatoes that covered two-thirds of his plate.

Redd was surrounded by a tableful of teammates, all of whom play in the Nittany Lion secondary. In addition to the food, primary on their minds on Thursday was getting some extra sleep, playing games on their PS2s and watching pro football on television. The Packers-Lions game was playing on several nearby TVs.

“I got 11 hours of sleep the other night,” said Redd, who like all Penn State students did not have class this week. “We usually get six, if we’re lucky, so this week has been great for catching up.”

The NFL matchup on Thursday night featuring the Harbaugh brothers – John, who coaches Baltimore, vs. Jim, who coaches San Francisco – was of special interest to freshman cornerback Adrian Amos. “I’m from Baltimore, so you now I’m for the Ravens,” said Amos.

Like Amos, tablemates Stephon Morris and Malcolm Willis are from Maryland, while Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is from the Bronx, N.Y.

Have you ever been to the Macy’s Day Parade, Obeng-Agyapong was asked.

“I saw it on TV once,” he replied. “But not this year. We were practicing.”

Penn State began its day with meetings, followed by a 75-minute workout without pads. They have Thursday night open, then more meetings on Friday before they fly to Wisconsin. Kickoff on Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium is at 3:30 p.m.

“We know this is our biggest game of the year,” said Still. “We’re ready. It’s been very quiet around here all week, so we’ve had a lot of time to think about it.”

More than 60 of the players on the Penn State roster are from out of state, so interim head coach Tom Bradley thought it was important to make the holiday a little special. On Wednesday night, the team had a movie theater to itself to watch “Immortals.”

And, said Bradley, ever mindful of life's little lessons, “they made sure they didn’t leave one kernel of corn or an empty cup on the floor."

On Thursday, a full contingent of 180 players, coaches, managers, staff and family members gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving in a Penn State student dining hall. Junior Nate Cadogen, from Portsmouth, Ohio, offered the invocation. And Bradley served as official greeter.

Bradley, clad in a blue oxford short and yellow tie, stood at the top of the steps of the dining hall, shaking hands with every player and welcoming guests, ranging from the team doctor and to an assistant coach’s adorable toddling daughters. Bradley took his fun job seriously – even a team manager who never spent a holiday away from home got some personal time with the head coach.

“I have the responsibility to look out for everyone here,” said Bradley, a member of the Penn State football family as a player and coach for 37 years. “We have a responsibility to these players’ parents to do the best we can, to create a family atmosphere and establish some camaraderie.”

The mood across the dining hall was relaxed, upbeat and casual. Most players wore sweats, while a few others like quarterback Matt McGloin opted for a collared shirt and a sweater. Ever the signal-caller, McGloin sat at the head of a huddle – er, table -- of nine players.

A staff of 19 Penn State cooks, managers, dishwashers and servers started their day at 5 a.m. to prepare the Thanksgiving Day feast. The menu included 17 roasted turkeys, each 22 to 25 pounds; four 15-pound smoked hams; six pans of lasagna; 10 pans of bread dressing; and 20 gallons of turkey gravy.

The meal included 10 dozen blueberry muffins, 30 loaves of artisan bread and 15 quarts of apple cider. Dessert featured Creamery ice cream and 45 pies – pumpkin, pumpkin cheesecake, apple and New York cheesecake.

Every guest and player got a take-out box...or three. And as the players scattered back to their dorms or apartments, or off to spend some time with family, Bradley – always the coach -- gathered the kitchen staff around to make sure they knew he appreciated their efforts.

Bradley did sit down at offensive coordinator Galen Hall's table for a few minutes to grab a bit of turkey, before bouncing up again. Unlike Still, he could have used an extra helping or two of pumpkin pie.

He’s lost 16 pounds since succeeding Joe Paterno as head coach 15 days ago. If there was ever a guy who needed a take-out box on Thursday, it’s Bradley. But he didn’t grab one.

“I’ll eat when the season’s over,” he laughed. “I hope that’s a long time from now.”


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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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