QUEENSBURY — Thanksgiving is a time for thankfulness, family and football, and Glens Falls will have all three this week.
The Indians’ football team has been preparing this week for a shot at a second state championship in three years. That alone is enough to be thankful for, but the team also has outstanding support from the community.
“This community has always supported their athletics, they always have, and we’re really fortunate for that,” head coach Pat Lilac said at Tuesday’s practice in the Adirondack Sports Complex dome. “I just told these guys in our meeting Monday that it’s great that it happens to be Thanksgiving week because we have so much to be thankful for, with how people have made us feel important and are taking care of us and helping us.”
Some players have so much more to be thankful for. Sophomore running back Aalijah Sampson’s father will be able to make the trip to see his son play in Saturday’s Class B state title game against Batavia, set for noon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Lorenzo Sampson suffered a stroke two years ago and had missed seeing Aalijah’s older brother, Aaron, play in Glens Falls’ 2016 state championship victory. Lorenzo was able to attend the state semifinal in Middletown, where Aalijah scored four touchdowns in the Indians’ 48-28 victory over Marlboro.
“He’s doing OK, he’s doing better — he’s very excited, when we got home he was like, ‘We’re going to the Dome!’” Aalijah Sampson said with a smile. “It was pretty big, the smile I got to see on his face and now we get to go to the Dome. It’s going to mean a lot because he didn’t get to make it last time. I’m just glad I gave him the opportunity to see me play there.”
“Their father was at the game in Middletown,” Lilac said, “and that’s one of those things that makes your heart feel good when something like that happens, and he was able to watch Aalijah in a big game like that play so well. We’re really excited for them as a family that they’re able to be together and see one of his sons play out there, which he wasn’t able to two years ago.”
Aalijah Sampson learned a lot about football from his brother. Aaron graduated as Glens Falls’ all-time leading rusher.
“He just showed me how much he loves the game and try your best to help your team out and win,” Aalijah Sampson said.
“We were fortunate that Aaron was a senior last year and Aalijah was starting for us as a freshman,” Lilac said, “and his older brother always had his back and he would be hard on him, too, when he wasn’t focused. So I think Aalijah benefited from that last year, and Aaron is still his biggest fan. They’re tight, as all brothers are.”
Family is a strong theme that permeates the Indians this season — six members of the Girard family, including senior quarterback Joseph Girard III, are on the roster. They are mostly third cousins — their grandfathers were all brothers — except for senior receiver Trent Girard and sophomore JV call-up Aidan Hirsch, who are first cousins. Senior linebacker Connor Girard, sophomore backup quarterback Noah Girard and freshman running back Griffin Woodell are the others.
They are part of a huge family tree that has been rooted in Glens Falls athletics for at least 75 years.
“It’s a great thing to be part of,” Connor Girard said. “We’ve always been tight-knit and grown up together, playing backyard football since we were little kids. Just to be able to go to the Dome with all these kids is unbelievable.”
“It’s great being able to do it with your best friends, especially your cousins that you’ve grown up playing sports with since I was 5 years old,” Trent Girard said. “We have Thanksgiving together, we have everything together.”
And of course, Thanksgiving means football, and the Girards remember playing in family“Turkey Bowls” on the holiday over the years.
“This is our Turkey Bowl this week, this Saturday,” Connor Girard said.
“All these guys are my brothers,” Joseph Girard said. “I have a lot of family members on the team, obviously I’ve been close to them, but everyone is like family to me, we’ve all been really close. … When we play for each other, that’s when we have a lot of success.”