Family opens home to UMD Bulldogs football team for Thanksgiving

As soon as John Wicklund and Kristen Lee-Wicklund had seen the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs defeat Emporia State in Saturday's Division II football playoff game, they headed to the grocery store.

Eating dinner
Members of the UMD football team chow down on a Thanksgiving dinner cooked by the Wicklund family at their home in the Pequaywan Lake area Thursday afternoon. The family has been hosting the team for Thanksgiving dinner the past several years. From left are Matt Wicklund, Wade Sebold, Brent Jorgensen and Chris Vandervest. (Bob King /

As soon as John Wicklund and Kristen Lee-Wicklund had seen the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs defeat Emporia State in Saturday's Division II football playoff game, they headed to the grocery store.

They knew they'd have extra guests for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ever since their son Matt Wicklund joined the team as a redshirt freshman four years ago, the Wicklunds have opened their Pequaywan Lake home at Thanksgiving to any of his teammates who wanted to join them for a traditional family meal -- on a large scale.

If the Bulldogs make it through the first round of the playoffs, most of the players aren't able to travel to their own homes for Thanksgiving. This year's traveling squad will be boarding a bus at 6:30 this morning andthen a plane to take them to Maryville, Mo., for Saturday's playoff game against Northwest Missouri State.

When that happens, the Wicklunds' secluded house has become their home away from home.


"It's weird because I really prefer to be here for Thanksgiving," said Pat Alexander, a senior tight end from Hillsboro, Wis. "It almost feels like I'm at home except I have so many more people and so many more friends here."

Last year, for the only time in Matt Wicklund's Bulldog career, the team lost in the first round of the playoffs, and most of the players were home for Thanksgiving.

The decisive win over Emporia State's Hornets ensured that wouldn't happen in his senior year. He notified his teammates that all were welcome, and 25 of them said they'd come.

Knowing about what to expect from past experience, John and Kristen had been to Cub Foods and Sam's Club with a shopping list that included four turkeys, two hams, 50 pounds of potatoes and 15 pounds of sweet potatoes.

When college football players will be your guests, "you don't plan for 25, you plan for 50," John Wicklund said.

The menu also included wild rice and sausage, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, Hawaiian sweet rolls, green beans and portabellas, scalloped corn, macaroni and cheese, cranberries, eight pies, appetizers, Chex mix, taco dip, fudge, meatballs and seven-layer bars.

Everything that possibly could be homemade was, including the mac and cheese.

John Wicklund deep-fried the turkeys just outside the home's main-level entrance. It's his preferred method, he said, because it only takes 45 minutes per turkey and, besides, there was no room for turkey in the oven.


That became clear when one looked upstairs, where Kristen Lee-Wicklund was cycling a bewildering array of foil-covered dishes through the oven.

They've learned how to put together their meal in stages, John Wicklund said, and it has become easier over the years.

There has been a lot of practice. Both Matt Wicklund and his twin sister Britty were involved in sports at Two Harbors High School, and their various teams were frequent guests in the Wicklund home.

Downstairs, UMD football players nibbled on meatballs and sweets as they watched the Oakland Raiders play the Dallas Cowboys on a big-screen TV.

Alexander, who was at the Wicklunds for his third Thanksgiving, had some advice for the younger players.

"A lot of the guys, they kind of burn themselves out on all of the appetizers," he said. "I was a victim of that the last two years. So I'm trying to stay strong this year."

Drew Bauer, the team's freshman quarterback, was trying to heed his teammate's advice.

"These have been great hors d'oeuvre," said Bauer, who is from Eagan, Minn. "But Pat Alexander said don't eat too much of the meatballs and the other stuff, because the best is yet to come."


Soon after, John Wicklund came through the door with the fourth turkey. Kristen Lee-Wicklund said she had everything else ready to go. Team members and family members would eat scattered all over the house, but first Kristen summoned everyone upstairs to give thanks.

She thanked the Lord for the blessings of food and friendship and a warm house, and then concluded: "Amen. Go Bulldogs. Let's eat."

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