Nicholas Dalferes has been around the John Curtis football program long enough to associate Thanksgiving with something other than turkey and mashed potatoes.
Instead, the senior offensive lineman looks forward to the doughnuts and hot chocolate.
Most years, those can be found near the sideline during the Patriots’ 8 a.m. walkthrough and special-teams instruction on Thanksgiving morning.
Last season, there was none. Curtis failed to reach the third week of the high school football playoffs for the first time since 1992, which made advancing to the state quarterfinal round this season even more meaningful.
This week, No. 3 Curtis (9-2) will face No. 6 C.E. Byrd (8-3) in a select Division I quarterfinal set for 7 p.m. Friday at Yenni Stadium.
“It was weird,” said Dalferes, whose older brother, Joseph, also played football before he graduated in 2020. “Something felt like it was missing (last year), not doing anything on Thanksgiving.”
He missed more than the doughnuts and hot chocolate. Also missing were the dozens of former players who return to the school every Thanksgiving to watch practice and then follow coach J.T. Curtis into the school gym for a devotional.
It’s a tradition that began in 1975, the first time Curtis advanced to the third week of the state football playoffs. When morning practice that Thanksgiving ended, the coach had his players gather in the gym so he could lead them in a short prayer service. The Patriots went on to win the state championship.
The next year, Curtis again advanced to the quarterfinal round of the state football playoffs, which meant the team would hold another practice on Thanksgiving morning. That year, several seniors from the previous team arrived so they could watch practice and participate in the prayer.
The following year, it happened again. Only this time attendance grew to include the past two classes of graduated football players.
Nearly 50 years have passed since.
“It’s a big part of our Thanksgiving,” said Chris Stropolo, a former quarterback who graduated in 1978 and whose younger brother, Brian, and son, Chris Jr., also played for Curtis.
Former players view the occasion as something more than a chance to reminisce. They also see it as a chance for current players to better understand the community that has formed around Curtis football and its other athletic programs.
“The young players don’t realize yet how important this particular Thursday morning is,” said Stropolo, a starting quarterback when Curtis won a second state title in 1977. “They find out at a later time what it’s all about and they become a part of it.”
Curtis surely isn’t the only school to have annual traditions that surround the successes achieved by its most prominent sports team. But for this annual gathering to happen — for so many former players to include this among their regular holiday activities — the school must achieve a certain level of sustained success.
Curtis alumni can count on one hand the number of times the football team failed since 1975 to reach the third week of the state playoffs.
“There was an empty feeling,” coach J.T. Curtis said about how he felt not having a Thanksgiving practice last season. “Not only because you were not playing, but because you did miss that tradition. It was something you look forward to and hope you have the opportunity to do every year. It was hard not having it.”
This year, the message from the longtime coach — now in his 54th season — can be a simple one. Something about not taking for granted the thing that for so many years has been an expectation.
That’s truly a reason to give thanks.