Vai's View: Vai's View: Thanksgiving with friends, neighbors and NFL players

Published: Saturday, Nov. 26 2011 9:00 a.m. MST

Utah Utes offensive linesman Zane Taylor (77) cheers after beating BYU in college football action in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

One of the great things about living in the east where we don't have any family nearby is that we've created our own network of extended family within our church community, with my work, with neighbors and with others who away from their own family.

Our Thanksgiving dinners have traditionally been an eclectic collection of families and individuals who have come to the Philadelphia area for work, graduate school, military duty, to nanny, an occasional student athlete and, of course, almost always a player or two from the Eagles.

We've had a long list of interesting people come through our home for Thanksgiving dinner in the 20 years we've lived in the east. One of the most interesting was Leonid Clark, a faithful black convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played trumpet, French horn and saxaphone for a long list of R&B artists that included James Brown, Teddy Pendergrass and Barry White.

Leonid joined the church in New York City after his divorce and moved to our LDS ward for a time while he taught music at a local university before he passed away. I held out hope that James Brown, Teddy Pendergrass or Barry White might sing at the funeral but it didn't happen.

Our dinner this year included a young BYU couple — AJ and Amy Reall and their little girl Jane — who are here working for Lockeed Martin. AJ is from Missouri and Amy grew up in Colorado but her family has since moved to Alpine, Utah. They met at BYU and married after graduation. Lockheed Martin hired AJ for a management program, making it his first job out of college.

We were also joined by Shannon Weaver, a young single adult from California who came east a few years ago to help a cousin who was sick. In that process, she wandered from church activity but ended up renting an apartment in our LDS ward boundaries, which is how we became friends. My wife is Shannon's visiting teacher and has been helping her return to church.

And Bryan Rowley is a fixture in our home even when it's not Thanksgiving, so he's a regular.

Partly because of Eagles' head coach Andy Reid's commitment to signing BYU players, there has been an unbroken string of Cougars in Philly since Andy became the Eagles' coach in 1999.

That list includes long snapper, Morris Unutoa, quarterback Ty Detmer, tight end Chad Lewis, linebacker Justin Ena, running back Reno Mahe, wide receiver Zach Collie, offensive lineman Scott Young and currently, offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds.

A few more have come for dinner who weren't Cougars but simply because they were LDS — Hawaii offensive lineman Tala Esera, Oregon State offensive lineman Alai Kalaniuvalu, Utah State wide reciever Kevin Curtis and Weber State fullback Marcus Mailei. Sometimes they're neither Cougars nor LDS but they come simply because they're Polynesians as was the case with Idaho State linebacker Pago Togofau and UNLV lineman Lonnie Palelei.

Earlier this week, I received an email from the Eagles' public relations staff informing me the team had just signed a couple of new players to their practice squad, among them was former Utah center Zane Taylor.

The team sends these notes to all of us in the local media on a daily basis to keep us updated on signings, roster cuts, injuries, etc. I hadn't thought much of it until my nephew Stanley Havili, former USC fullback and also a member of the Eagles' practice squad, showed up for dinner with Zane yesterday.

Zane was the Utes' starting center since his sophomore year and hails from Moab, Utah. My buddy Bryan Rowley, another former Ute, was almost giddy that he got to sit next to Zane at dinner. It was fun to hear them talk of mutual friends and experiences as Utes.

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