This Saturday night at 7 pm EST, some of Ohio's best football players will be taking the field in Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania to take on a terrific collection of talent from the Keystone State in the 47th annual Big 33 Football Classic. While Hersheypark has dubbed itself "The Sweetest Place On Earth," what the boys from Ohio will be running into on the field should actually be quite sour.
"We're here to win," Pennsylvania head coach George Chaump said last week. "We're going to knock their heads off and back the talk because our players are going to be like hitting fools."
The reason Chaump and the rest of the Pennsylvania players feel that way is because of the anything-but-sweet taste left in their mouths from last year's Big 33 contest, in which Ohio completely destroyed Pennsylvania 38-7 with a performance that was as dominant as it gets. It could even be argued that the game wasn't even as close as the score indicates.
Ohio took control from the opening kickoff and never looked back. A front seven that included Buckeye signees DT David Patterson, DL Reggie Smith, LB Curt Lukens, and DT Brandon Maupin as well as Purdue signee DE Ray Edwards and Michigan LB Shawn Crable were instrumental in holding the Pennsylvania offense to virtually nothing all game long.
This year, however, stopping the Pennsylvania squad will not come as easily for Ohio. The team boasts two of the most talented quarterbacks to play at the Big 33 game in the last several years (if not ever) in Michigan-bound Chad Henne and Penn State's Anthony Morelli. Both five-star recruits, Henne threw for 5,342 yards and 55 touchdowns in his time at West Lawn Wilson, while Morelli aired it out for 5,244 yards and 56 touchdowns at Pittsburgh Penn Hills.
"They're very, very good quarterbacks and they'll both be good quarterbacks at the next level," Chaump told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "I think both of them can play on Sundays."
The two quarterbacks will have plenty of weapons to work with, including Miami (Fl.)-bound RB Andrew Johnson, Pittsburgh-bound DB/WR Darrelle Revis and incoming Buckeye Devon Lyons, and incoming Buckeye TE Rory Nicol.
LionNews.com staff member MarshCreek has been checking out the Big 33 practices and raved about the potential of Lyons.
"Lyons is noticeably bigger than he was at the 2003 Nike camp," he wrote in his Big 33 practice report (premium link). "He looks about 6-4 220 lbs right now, and he's looking a little faster than he was then too. This kid will play early at Ohio State."
Ironically, two of the players the Wolverine (Henne) and the Nittany Lion (Morelli) will rely on for protection are two future Buckeyes -- Jon Skinner of Mount Carmel and Kyle Mitchum of Erie McDowell. Also joining them up front will be outstanding two-way lineman A.Q. Shipley, who is headed to Penn State.
Players like Mitchum and Shipley can go both ways in this game, which will help make Pennsylvania strong on the defensive line, and some impressive talent at linebacker will give the Keystone State squad a tough front seven. Five-star MLB Dan Connor, who some felt was the top overall prospect in Pennsylvania last year, is not listed on the roster for this game, but outstanding prospects James Bryant (headed to Miami-FL) and future Penn State star Dontey Brown should shine. Michigan-bound DE Chris Rogers and PSU-bound LB/DE Tyrell Sales will also add to this fine group, and you can also expect to see Bryant at fullback as well.
Defensive back might be the one area where Pennsylvania is a bit down, but Revis is a talent at DB and is one to watch. Purdue-bound Dave Brytus will handle the kicking duties.
At first glance, Pennsylvania has a load of talent and is likely the favorite. It also does not help that several of Ohio's best players will not be playing in this game as LB Marcus Freeman, RB Antonio Pittman, OL Steve Rehring, P A.J. Trapasso, and WR Fred Davis were among those to enroll early in college, and Ohio Mr. Football RB Ray Williams, who was originally picked to play in the game, has had more than his share of off-the-field problems.
But the Ohio team, coached by Doug Pearson of Toledo St. John's, will be bringing plenty of talented players with them, and while they may not have the overall star power of Pennsylvania, the Buckeye state squad does not seem to have any glaring weaknesses.
Handling the quarterback duties for Ohio for the most part will likely be Brian Hoyer of Cleveland St. Ignatius. The strong-armed Michigan State signee will also be joined by Anthony Turner of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (Bowling Green) and Grant Gregory of Athens (Indiana).
Leading the charge at running back will be future Buckeye Erik Haw of Columbus Independence, and he will have help from Tony Howard of Garfield Heights (Michigan State). Brad Bury of Marion Harding (Miami-Oh) is a steamroller at fullback.
At wide receiver, Ohio boasts perhaps the best overall player in this game in future Buckeye Ted Ginn. Ginn will be on center stage as he will play both ways in this game (and will likely return kicks as well). Joining him is Miles Williams from Austintown-Fitch (Michigan State), and the two should make a formidable receiving duo. Throw in some talented players that can play tight end like OSU-bound Chad Hoobler of Carrollton and Mike Massey of St. Ignatius (Michigan) and the skill positions look solid for Ohio.
Ohio's offensive line will certainly have their work cut out for them in this game, but they have talent that could meet the challenge. Leading the way is future Buckeye Ben Person of Xenia, and among the fine players joining him are Chauncey Incarnato of Dover (Notre Dame), Josh Kerr of Strongsville (Miami-FL), Ryan Stanchek of Cincinnati LaSalle (West Virginia), and Gerald Cadogan of Portsmouth (Penn State).
The Ohio front seven does not boast the type of name recognition of Pennsylvania's front, but as we saw in the Ohio All-Star Classic, these guys can play. Two of the most impressive players in that game were Alex Barrow of Dublin Coffman (Ohio State) and Justin Kershaw of Reynoldsburg (Michigan State), and they will be on the defensive line once again for this game. Joining them will be Mike Massey and underrated end William Brody out of Cleveland Benedictine (Minnesota). At linebacker, you will find Hoobler, Chad Mayse of Mentor (West Virginia), and Brandon Smith of Euclid (Ohio State).
At defensive back, Ginn will loom large. Watch for Ginn potentially going up against future teammate Devon Lyons in what would be one of the game's premier matchups. The overall secondary should be strong, as among those joining Ginn will be incoming Buckeyes Brandon Underwood of Hamilton and Sirjo Welch of Columbus Beechcroft as well as Penn State signee Tony Davis of Warren Howland. Minnesota-bound Jason Giannini of Canton GlenOak is on the roster as the kicker.
There's a reason the Big 33 game is called "The Super Bowl of High School Football." At least one player in every Super Bowl ever played has also played in the Big 33 classic, and among the well-known names to have played in the Big 33 are Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Ricky Watters, Lavar Arrington, Jim Kelly, Andy Katzenmoyer, Orlando Pace, Tony Dorsett, Marvin Harrison, Curtis Martin, LeCharles Bentley, Antoine Winfield, Charles Woodson, Antonio Freeman, Sean Gilbert, Matt Millen, Ed McCaffrey, Rocket Ismail, Ty Law, two sport-star Brian Jordan, and NFL coaches Dave Wannstedt and Marty Schottenheimer.
The 2004 edition of the Big 33 will be the 47th anniversary game, while Ohio and Pennsylvania have squared off over the past 11 years. Pennsylvania leads the series 6-5 over that time.
The game will not be televised live in Ohio. It is scheduled to be run on Fox Sports Ohio on tape delay on July 29th from 7-10 pm. In Pennsylvania, the game is scheduled to be broadcast live on ABC 27 out of Harrisburg, Fox Sports Pittsburgh, CN8, and Service Electric Cable.
For more information on the game, including rosters and game history, please check out the Big 33 Web site at http://www.big33.org/index.shtml.