Sean Lissemore gave his relatives notice long ago.
"Last year I was sitting at the Thanksgiving table, and I said to my family, 'I love all you guys, but I'm not gonna be here next year,' " he said.
Lissemore, William and Mary's senior defensive tackle, was banking on different plans for the holiday.
He and his Tribe teammates have made good on that vow. William and Mary (9-2) plays host to Weber State (7-4) at 1 p.m. today in a first-round FCS playoff game.
That meant Thanksgiving was spent watching film and practicing plays. The players did have a team dinner, but other than that, it was business as usual — and that was just fine with everyone.
"I don't know if there's any place we'd really rather be right now," senior tight end Rob Varno said. "We talked about it this summer: 'Be here for Thanksgiving.' It was one of our unspoken goals that came to fruition, and we're excited to be here and be able to play."
Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock remembers spending Thanksgivings at Zable Stadium, but not always in the manner he would have preferred.
"Sometimes, when we didn't go (to the playoffs) and my kids were little, the cousins would come down and we'd come over here on Thanksgiving Day and we'd throw the ball around and play," Laycock said. "I'd keep telling them, 'I don't like doing this. I want something else.' "
Thanks to a defense ranked third in the nation in total yardage allowed (236.5 per game) and first in average rushing yards allowed (55.4) and an offense that ranked third in the Colonial Athletic Association by averaging 369 yards, Laycock is back in the playoffs for the first time since his 2004 team made the national semifinals.
"It's a reward, so to speak, but we're also not sitting there thinking it's over and we've accomplished something just because we're in the field of 16," Laycock said. "We're taking the approach that we're excited about that, but we're getting ready to play another ballgame."
The Tribe takes on a Wildcats team from Ogden, Utah, that scored 30.7 points per game while giving up 20.2. After a 31-10 loss to top national seed Montana on Halloween, Weber State won its last two games to make its second playoff appearance in as many seasons.
"We know what to expect," said senior Tim Toone, who leads the nation with 21.22 yards per punt return and ranks seventh with 1,058 receiving yards. "We know how tough it is and we know how much talent there is with every team in the playoffs. You can't have mistakes. You have to play your heart out and play your best game every game."
The Wildcats planned a team dinner before flying across the country on Thursday. As with William and Mary players, the non-traditional holiday schedule doesn't bother the Wildcats in the least.
"This is great," Weber State coach Ron McBride said. "This is a part of the country that these kids haven't been to. Virginia's a beautiful place and I know the college is in a nice location. We're very excited about playing these guys."
Like Laycock, McBride has had to rely solely on film study to learn about his first-round opponent. But while William and Mary's foe today may be unfamiliar, the message from the Tribe coach remains the same.
"Keep playing. Keep practicing. Keep doing what you're doing, only do it better," Laycock said. "... It's not like automatically you're in the playoffs, so hit a switch and now we've got to do something differently.
"Every game's a big game. We've played some big games all year long. We got another big game (today)."
WILLIAM AND MARY (9-2) vs. WEBER STATE (7-4)WHEN: 1 p.m.WHERE: Zable StadiumTV/RADIO: 92.3 FM, 107.9 FMTHE BUZZ: William and Mary makes its first playoff appearance since 2004, playing host to a Wildcats team that ended the season on a two-game winning streak. Tribe players say they've put last week's heartbreaking 13-10 loss to Richmond to end the regular season behind them, and they'll have to play like it today.THE PICK: William and Mary 23, Weber State 17Melinda WaldropCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun