RIFLE, Colorado - As Rifle High School football head coach Damon Wells ran his team through practice drills on Thursday, the one-liners kept on coming.
"There ain't nothing like a sunburn on Thanksgiving day!" he shouted as his Bears worked under bright, practically cloudless skies.
"All the wrestlers have to be happy as heck right now," Wells quipped a bit earlier. "You get to eat!"
Before players took off to join their respective families for Thanksgiving feasts, they spent a little time with their football family on a picture-perfect day in Rifle. The mission: Get just a little bit better in advance of Saturday's Class 3A state semifinal game at Pueblo East. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Dutch Clark Stadium.
"These are my brothers out here," said senior Hugo Ruelas, who plays on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Bears. "It's cool. I like coming out here and spending time with them."
Ruelas and his teammates were very much thankful for the chance to spend Thanksgiving as a team. After all, few teams are afforded the opportunity.
"Not many people get to do this," junior running back/safety Kellin Leigh said. "You've got to keep that in mind."
Rifle earned a Thanksgiving football gathering by being one of the best teams in Class 3A football. The Bears are 12-0 and, until last Saturday's 48-34 win over Roosevelt in the quarterfinals, had not surrendered more than 13 points in a game this season. They have allowed just 69 points on the year and have scored 523.
Rifle's semifinal foe - Pueblo East - is no slouch, either. The Eagles are 10-2 and have won five straight. Their two losses, which came at the hands of Discovery Canyon (29-19) and The Classical Academy (37-33), have been by 10 points or fewer.
"I think they're big, physically, very well coached," said Wells, who had his 9-year-old son, Hayden, by his side at Thursday's practice. "They have really good athletes, really big kids up front and good athletes in the back. You kind of have to expect that when you get to the Final Four."
This weekend, the Bears very much want to extend their season another week.
"All of us just want it so bad," junior fullback/linebacker Javier Nunez said. "We're just so determined to win and win and win."
They certainly leaned on that determination last weekend in the face of a test from Roosevelt.
"I guess we just really wanted it," Nunez said. "Everyone just does their own job really good, and that's really what it's about."
Another win this weekend would mean more time with football family, the same football family that assembled at Bears Stadium on a sun-drenched Thanksgiving morning.
"There's no doubt these guys are like family," Wells said. "We've been together so many days in a row and for such a long time period of time that, honestly, it might be more weird not seeing them today."