Jennifer Ogletree Thomas will be wearing a black shirt to the 54th annual Heritage Bowl between Spencer and Carver tonight at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.
In the middle of the shirt are the Carver and Spencer helmets, flanked by a tiger and a green owl. On one sleeve is the No. 20 printed in Carver’s signature light blue. On the other is a green No. 9.
They are the numbers of her two sons, Andrew Ogletree and Khalil Thomas, who will line up on opposite sidelines in one of the area’s most historic rivalries Friday night. While the two players, who are stepbrothers who have lived together since they were 5 and 6 years old, respectively, have played on separate teams since middle school, this meeting will mean even more because it is likely the last time they’ll get to be on the same field together.
Jennifer gets misty-eyed when she thinks about it.
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This game is adding to the reality that they are both growing up.
“This game is adding to the reality that they are both growing up,” she said. “This game is extremely emotional for us all. While the boys are excited, they are also very emotional, which is part of the reason they won’t speak on it.”
Both players were uncharacteristically reserved when describing their upcoming meeting. There hasn’t been much playful banter, they said. While Ogletree, the younger of the two, said he believed his team would win, he wouldn’t add any fuel to the fire of an already hotly contested showdown. Khalil Thomas refused outright to make a prediction, electing instead to let the result on Friday settle any potential disputes.
Both players followed different paths to get where they are. Thomas had friends who were going to attend Spencer, and he wanted to go with them. Jennifer said she’d give it a year to test whether he did well or not. He had a great year athletically and academically, she said, and so she allowed him to stay.
Ogletree, meanwhile, always dreamed of playing football for the Tigers. He looked up to former players such as Brentson Buckner, Jarvis Jones and Gabe Wright and wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“So we allowed him to follow his dream,” Jennifer said.
Which leads them to Friday.
Of course, it won’t be the first time they’ve played on the same field. They played on the same youth team before splitting up in middle school, and they work out together occasionally during the offseason.
Ogletree said it helped to have a brother who was so committed to football, noting that it helps with the motivation and the drive to get better. Thomas said their chemistry on and off the field has formed a bond that no football game can break.
“That’s why there’s no need to talk,” he said.
The rest of the family is a different matter entirely, though. Jennifer, who is a Jordan graduate, said that there’s plenty of family on both sides of the rivalry. Her mom graduated from Spencer, while Thomas’ dad graduated from Carver.
“It’s all in the family,” she said. “We talk a lot of trash. The boys don’t, but we talk a lot of trash.”
It’s all in the family. We talk a lot of trash. The boys don’t, but we talk a lot of trash.
Both players are focused on winning a football game right now. Carver has owned the rivalry for years, winning each of the past 17 meetings. Last year was a closer contest, and there is some talk around the rivalry that the Greenwave might have a chance to end the losing streak this season.
If they do, Jennifer said, you can believe that Thomas will be talking plenty after the game.
For her, she’s just excited about the chance to see how far both of her sons have come.
“They’ve accomplished so much,” she said. “It’s exciting and nerve-wracking. You don’t want either’s heart broken at the end of the game. It can be a roller coaster. … I’m just going to be that supportive mom on both ends.”