By ANDY WOLF
Rob Keys has relatives in different parts of the country.
Unfortunately for him, he’s had to spend the last many Thanksgivings with them.
“They asked last year and the year before ‘Hey, where are we having Thanksgiving? And I say ‘I hope I’m not with you guys,'” the University of Findlay football coach said, jokingly.
This year his wish came true.
Instead, he’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with his football family amidst preparations for the Oilers’ Division II regional semifinal playoff game against Assumption College at 1 p.m. Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“Unfortunately, the last couple years I’ve had to be home for Thanksgiving and never happy about it because you want to be playing,” Keys said.
The Oilers are going to have a Thanksgiving dinner together Thursday.
Keys said in his first eight years of college football he never had Thanksgiving at home.
That’s because as a player and then an assistant coach at West Virginia, the Division I regular season carried on well through the holiday.
The Mountaineers regularly had a Friday night contest against former Big East rival Pittsburgh.
“I was rarely home. I was just used to that,” Keys said.
Meanwhile, the Division II regular season spans 11 weeks with the season finale two weeks prior to the holiday weekend.
Keys, in his seventh season as head coach, has the Oilers in the Division II playoffs for the first time in school history.
Last Saturday’s win over No. 2 Shepherd meant they’d be among the few still on campus.
Classes let out on Tuesday, giving UF a five-day weekend.
But Keys knows his players, especially his seniors, are thankful to spend more time together.
After all, the bonds of teammates go deeper than just football.
“We’re going to take this Thanksgiving to get closer to our team, embrace the moment,” said senior defensive back Aaron Ivory, a Cleveland native. “We’d rather be here than back home, because we’re getting a step closer to the goals that we had once we started the season.”
Junior quarterback Rhys Gervais can’t remember the last time he saw his family during Thanksgiving.
A Puyallup, Washington, native, he only goes home during Christmas break and the month of May.
Since transferring to Findlay for the 2015 season, he spent the previous two Thanksgivings with the family of former teammate and wide receiver Tim Szabo, a Dayton native.
Meanwhile, Liberty-Benton grad and defensive lineman Grant Kinsinger doesn’t have far to go.
He’s unsure of whether he’ll make the yearly appearance at his grandparents’ house in Bluffton.
“It is a family-oriented sport,” Kinsinger said. “We have a really close team so I think everyone is really happy we get to spend Thanksgiving together.”
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By ANDY WOLF