The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
Football is about family, and the Lakewood football family gathered together Thursday morning for a Thanksgiving practice. The Lancers are preparing for their CIF Southern Section Division 8 championship, which they’ll host on campus at John Ford Stadium against Northwood High Saturday at 7 p.m.
It’s been more than a decade since Lakewood had Thanksgiving practice, and it’s been 52 years since the team played in a CIF-SS championship game. Head coach Justin Utupo was a senior in 2009, the last time the team made the semifinals. He remembered fondly the experience of being a student-athlete on the holiday practice.
“It’s a special moment for our kids, it’s a moment that they’ll remember forever,” he said. “I remember practicing during Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t for a championship. This team has earned the right to be here on a holiday and they get to do it with their brothers.”
The Lakewood team and coaches weren’t the only ones on hand for the team’s walkthrough. There were former coaches including former defensive coordinator Wayne Schmida, who was Utupo’s coordinator under head coach Thadd MacNeal before Utupo went and played at Notre Dame.
“We’re super proud of you guys,” said Schmida. “You planned and you prepared and now you’re gonna go out Saturday and execute and have fun.”
There were plenty of alums and family members on hand as well, and when practice had wrapped up everyone went back to the cafeteria, where several team moms had put together a Thanksgiving feast for the team. It wasn’t that long ago that Utupo was one of those players lining up to get his plate, but on Thursday morning he stood back like a proud father and watched his football team come together in appreciation of the holiday.
“This is what it’s all about right here,” he said.