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Thanksgiving Evokes Memories, Gratitude for Tide Players


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By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations

One month ago, Justin Britt was leaning over his mother’s hospital bed, unable to do anything but pray for a miracle as she prepared to undergo emergency surgery to repair a fractured skull.

The surgery was designed to relieve swelling in Vera Britt’s brain, suffered after an accident following Alabama’s homecoming win over Houston, Oct. 6. The Britt family was told there was a 15-percent chance Vera would make it through surgery and, if she did, only a 15-percent chance she would make it through the next 48 hours.

The family, including Justin, could only pray.

In the days following the surgery, Vera Britt’s recovery was so pronounced that Thursday, following Alabama’s practice in preparation for Saturday’s game against Auburn, Justin Britt will drive the 100 miles to his home in Cullman, where his family, including Vera, will be, for a Thanksgiving dinner that won’t have hospital food on the menu.

“It makes me think how grateful we are to have her this Thanksgiving and how blessed we are to have her,” Britt said. “I thought we’d be in the hospital this Thanksgiving and Christmas and to have her at home as soon as we do is a blessing and an answer to our prayers and I’m extremely thankful.

“I feel like I’m part of a miracle and it’s just amazing to see how she’s done.”

Britt is one of a handful of Alabama football players taking advantage of head coach Nick Saban’s Thanksgiving policy: if a player lives within a two-hour drive of Tuscaloosa, he can return home for Thanksgiving after Alabama’s afternoon practice.

For Britt, being able to return to see his extended family and his mother means more than the typical Thanksgiving, as did last Saturday’s senior day at Bryant-Denny Stadium, when Vera Britt shunned the wheelchair that had been prepared for her and walked to the 50-yard line to greet her son.

“It meant everything,” he said. “To see her walk out there on her own was a miracle. Nothing short of a miracle, no doubt. It’s the power of prayer that got her through it and got her to be able to do what she did.”

Behind Britt, in line for his own turn at senior day, defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry watched Vera Britt walk onto the field and knew what it had to have meant to his teammate.

“I teared up for him,” said Gilberry, who won’t return to his home in Bay Minette, but will eat instead at a coach’s house. “She’s come a long way from when she got hurt and I’m quite sure it meant the world to him.”

Like Britt, Tide junior linebacker Ezekial Knight will find more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving than most. Four games into the 2006 season, Knight was forced to take a medical redshirt when an unknown medical condition surfaced and sent him to two hospitals before it was revealed he had a heart murmur.

After a surgery at UAB and a subsequent recovery that has led Knight back onto the field, where he is sixth on the team in tackles with 51 and second with tackles-for-loss with 10, Knight knows he is fortunate not just to be back on the Alabama roster, but to even be back at all.

“I’m thankful to be alive,” he said. “I’m thankful to be able to play again. I’m thankful that some of us are going to get to go home and spend Thanksgiving with our families.

“I look forward to seeing all my family. We have a lot of clowns in our family. Everybody gets around and we joke and carry on and you’re basically laughing all day. I look forward to that.”

Traveling with Knight to his home in Wedowee will be Alabama teammates Brandon Fanney and Darren Mustin, who are unable to make trips home to their families in Tennessee. But Thanksgiving at the Mustin house will be eventful even without the Alabama linebacker present ?? Mustin’s 12 brothers and sisters, and the amount of food it takes to feed them all, he said, will keep the party going.

“There’s so much food that it lasts two or three more days,” Mustin said. “Just think about it: 13 people, food for two or three more days, that’s a lot of food. Most of the time there’s not room on the dinner table, it’s just food. You take your food into another room.”

Safety Rashad Johnson, who will make the 70-mile drive home to Sulligent, Thursday night, is looking forward to his cousin’s macaroni at his grandmother’s house, but more so seeing the family that supported him through his journey to Alabama, where he has gone from walk-on running back to being tied for the SEC lead in interceptions, with six.

“I’m thankful for my family because without them I probably wouldn’t be at the university doing what I’m doing now, because they were behind me 100 percent,” Johnson said. “They motivated me when I couldn’t motivate myself when I was down and the times I thought I should be playing and I wasn’t.”

As for Mustin, not being able to see his family doesn’t change his thankfulness for their support throughout his college career, which has taken him from Middle Tennessee State University to the Capstone, where he is currently third on the Alabama defense in tackles, with 65.

“I’m thankful that God gave me this opportunity to come down here and play ball,” he said. “I’m thankful for God that my legs work. My aunt can still walk. I can still play this game one more time.”