It is a day to express gratitude.

It’s also a day when family members meet from near and far to celebrate an occasion that was recognized more than 150 years ago.

For Aurora senior Will McGhee and his family, on the other hand, it is a day that will live in infamy.

That’s because Will’s older brother, Paulie, had his life taken away in a fatal car accident on Thanksgiving Day back in 2011.

Not a day goes by when Will, nicknamed "Sweet Willie," doesn’t think about his older brother. His unimaginable grief expands rather substantially during the holidays.

Knowing full well there is nothing he can do to bring his brother back into his life, the younger McGhee has taken a rather simplistic approach to honor Paulie.

He strives to be the very best he can be.

"It’s a tough time during the holidays," said McGhee, who recently ended his wrestling career for the Greenmen as a two-time state qualifier. "He helps me get through it. He pushes me to wrestle my hardest."

The younger McGhee’s quest to honor his brother will likely continue for the rest of his life. And that will include performances on the mats for at least another four years.

McGhee recently signed a national letter of intent to continue his academic and wrestling careers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

McGhee, who plans to major in biological sciences, chose the Monarchs over John Carroll University in University Heights. McGhee said he visited more than 15 schools before he reached his decision.

"I really loved the campus and I liked the coaches a lot," he said.

McGhee gave wrestling a try when he was 7 years old. He joined the Junior Aurora Wrestling program, which is known affectionately by its nickname, JAWs.

"My family put me into it," McGhee said. "JAWs had a good build-up program."

McGhee quickly showed he could hold his own on the mats. But the harsh reality was this: Every other member in the program did, too.

As a result, McGhee had trouble cracking the lineup when he first reached Aurora High School.

"I wrestled varsity, but I was behind [current John Carroll sophomore] Jarrod Brezovec," McGhee said. "I just put in a lot of work during the summer my freshman and sophomore years."

The tireless work ethic certainly paid dividends.

McGhee was a state alternate as a sophomore and then inked his name among the legends the following two years.

McGhee, who won more than 100 matches during his stellar high school career, finished fifth at 152 pounds as a junior at the 2018 Division II state meet and then capped his glorious tenure at Aurora by placing seventh in Division II at 160 pounds earlier this month.

McGhee and his teammates completed a season for the ages.

The Greenmen finished second in the team standings at the state competition after being the runners-up at the state dual team tournament last month.

"He is a great kid and a great vocal leader," Aurora head coach John Papesh said. "He’s a great athlete, who comes from a great family."

McGhee had a chance to place even higher at the 2019 state meet. Unfortunately, he lost one of his matches in the final seconds.

"It was very disappointing," McGhee said. "I was winning the whole time until he took me down in the last three seconds. I’ve done it to people. You live and die by the sword."

Now that his high school career is over, McGhee has certainly taken some time to reminisce about the glory days. Thanks to McGhee and his talented comrades, the Greenmen had their highest finish at the state tournament since they won the Division III title in 1995.

"It was definitely a fun career," McGhee said. "I enjoyed it. The seniors are close friends. We have been wrestling together forever."

It’s a safe bet McGhee has a little more, well, "will" power than most.

He cut a drastic amount of weight to hit 152 as a junior and then slashed an excessive amount of weight to wrestle at 160 pounds this past winter.

"I was pretty fat," McGhee said. "I hit 195 in the summer. Making 152 was terrible. There were times when I didn’t eat anything on my birthday. I was running on the treadmill and biking."

McGhee won’t have to worry about visiting the sauna when he prepares for the NCAA competition. His new coaches are expecting him to bulk up.

Such advice was music to McGhee’s ears.

"I’m going to try to get as big as possible," he said.

Old Dominion, a Division I wrestling program, finished fourth in the Mid-American Conference Championships earlier in the month.

McGhee is likely to be redshirted when he enrolls at the 251-acre university. Don’t expect him to rest on his laurels, though. McGhee plans to train like a madman.

"For me personally, I want to get on the mat, start, win at the MAC and get to the NCAA Tournament," he said.

When he resumes his wrestling career on the collegiate level, a young man McGhee loves very deeply will be close to his heart at all times.

Especially on Thanksgiving Day.

"I remember the good and bad memories," McGhee said. "He was my corner coach when I was a youth. I remember him beating my [butt].

"Our coaches tell us to wrestle with a purpose. He’s my purpose."

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.