College students around the country packed up over the past few days to return home for a long Thanksgiving weekend.
The Villanova University football team has practice this morning — and the Wildcats are thrilled about it.
Villanova (8-3) is in the 20-team field for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which start Saturday. The Wildcats, who feature seven local players, will play at Stony Brook at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“This time last season, we were all finishing up with class, preparing to go home, so it’s definitely enjoyable to still be playing football,” Mainland Regional High School graduate Antoine Lewis said after practice Tuesday morning. “Only 20 teams in the country right now have got this opportunity. We’re just looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
Lewis, whose 50 tackles this season are tied for fourth among linemen in the Colonial Athletic Association, said he plans to return home to Somers Point tonight for dinner, bringing with him teammates from California and Florida. The Wildcats have a walk-through Friday morning before heading to Stony Brook, so flying anywhere for Thanksgiving was out of the question.
Wide receiver Norman White, a St. Joseph graduate, plans to drive home for dinner with his family in Hammonton and then be back on campus tonight.
“Instead of waking up Friday morning and driving back,” White said, “I’ll probably just leave that night after dinner.”
Safety Joe Sarnese, a Holy Spirit graduate, plans to have his first Thanksgiving dinner in his family’s new home in Ventnor. Sarnese said he doesn’t mind coming right back to the Main Line afterward, though.
“I would be devastated if I was going home right now for Thanksgiving break,” said Sarnese, who is third in the CAA with four interceptions. “I’m definitely very happy to be here.”
While Sarnese is only a sophomore, White is a fifth-year senior, so he appreciated being at practice this week perhaps more than anyone. Many of the players from White’s original class finished their college careers with a 2-9 campaign last year.
White, who leads the team with 38 catches and six for touchdowns, laughed when asked if he minds not getting to sleep in or take a long weekend.
“I’m just honored to keep playing,” he said. “This is my last year, so hopefully I can go out with a bang.”
While the players will be able to do Thanksgiving dinners at home, they will miss their high schools’ Turkey Day rivalry games.
Sarnese had a prediction, though, for today’s showdown between Spirit and Atlantic City.
“I will not be able to see that,” he said with a smile, “but we all know that Holy Spirit will be taking the W.”
Note: The other local players on the Villanova roster are receiver Kenny Miles (Buena Regional), kickoff specialist Chris Gough (St. Augustine Prep) and offensive linemen Justin Rhinesmith (Middle Township), cornerback Craig James (Oakcrest) and Nico D’Angelo (Holy Spirit).
Contact Jason Mazda: