Sometimes, plans have to change.
But Daphne Brown didn’t mind in the least.
Instead of spending time with family on Thanksgiving, the wife of Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown was spending time with her other family in Hays at the annual community Thanksgiving dinner at Rose Garden Banquet Hall.
“I did not, but I’m excited about it for sure,” she said about expecting to spend Thanksgiving with hundreds of others and Tiger players. “It’s different not being with my family. We have a tradition of always going to my sister’s house, so everyone had to kind of adjust.”
When you’re the wife of the coach that has led the FHSU football team to the best season in school history, plans are bound to change.
That’s because the Tigers are set to host their first-ever NCAA Division II home playoff game Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m. against Ferris State.
That also meant the Brown family and numerous players weren’t going to make their normal plans for celebrating Thanksgiving with family.
So FHSU personnel reached out to Ellis County Ministerial Alliance President Celeste Lasich and asked if it would be possible for some of the players to attend the annual community dinner.
Preparations were made to help feed the extra people, along with hundreds who usually attend as well.
“We practiced this morning, and the guys that are close went home to be with their families as well,” the FHSU coach said. “These guys needed a place to go for Thanksgiving. Being here at the Rose Garden gave us an opportunity to come and be a part of a family and the community. Fort Hays State football is a big part of the community, and they’re a big part of the reason why we’re so successful is because of their support. Being there on Saturday and supporting us and being loud gives us that encouragement throughout the game. It’s very, very appreciative. But it’s great having things like this when we can celebrate this wonderful day together.”
Some of the players who were close enough to go home went to be with family. Those who couldn’t travel a long distance stayed in Hays to enjoy the holiday with their Tiger family.
“This is nice,” said junior linebacker Jose Delgado, from Derby. “Most of us are away from our families, but this is our second family. It’s not too bad.”
The Tiger players joined with community members and volunteers to enjoy a home-cooked meal that consisted of Thanksgiving favorites — turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and dessert.
“It was 50-50. I was hoping we would be,” senior receiver Tyler Bacon, from Quapaw, Okla., said about spending Thanksgiving in Hays. “Then the season started and we started rolling, and we realized we would be spending Thanksgiving here. I’m excited about it, and it’s good to be spending it with teammates.
“I love being with these guys, and I love being with the coaches. It’s just like spending Thanksgiving with your other family.”
While many of the players joked with each other and chowed down on the meal, they also admitted it was a bit hard to fully focus on the holiday with the playoff game nearly 48 hours away.
“Thanksgiving’s here, but you can’t really think about it because we have the game on our minds,” Delgado said. “But we’re going to enjoy it and get back to things on Friday.”
Coach Brown and his wife, along with sons Hunter and Hayden, sat at a table near the players as they feasted on their meal.
“At the start of the season, you always hope to be at this point,” he said. “To have the opportunity to be with your team on Thanksgiving means you’re still practicing and that you’re in the playoffs. We’ve always prayed for this, and God has blessed us very much with this opportunity. We have a great group of kids that have worked hard these last four or five years to get to this point. The awesome thing is we’ve wanted to be in the playoffs. We’ve been in the bowl games and things like that, but they weren’t satisfied with that and they did the things to get us to that point.”
The head coach has been instrumental in building up the FHSU program into a national contender. The Tigers are 11-0 entering Saturday’s game, the best mark in school history.
A lot of that success has come from a family-type atmosphere.
“I tell these guys every day that I’m kind of like their dad,” Brown said. “I treat each one of the guys like they’re my own kid. I love them very much and will always be there for them. … This group of guys is a true family. They’re brothers. They’ve got each others' backs and are always there to support one another. I want to be one of those guys as well that’s there for them and a support system for them in every facet of life. We’re there for them.”
On Thanksgiving, Brown and his family once again were there for the players who couldn’t go home.
It was a Tiger family that has grown throughout the years under Brown’s tutelage, culminating in a season that had those involved taking nothing for granted and being thankful for everything that has gotten them to this point.
“It has been the hugest blessing,” the coach’s wife said. “It’s a lot of time and a lot of work. We are so thankful that it happened in this way and the timing of it because we are able to appreciate it so much more because we know the downside of it all and have been there. We’ve been doing it for 15 years, so this is just so amazing. We’re all so excited. When we won the MIAA trophy, Chris and I said it ranked right up there with the birth of our children. That’s how proud we were. That night, we couldn’t sleep or anything because it was a long time coming.”