Change is evident this year even in the simple replacement of the golden helmets long worn by the Pennsylvania squad, in favor of a white model trimmed with a wide blue stripe accented by overprinting of the Big 33 logo. Positive vibrations are evident in the faces and comments of the staff and volunteers who are upbeat about the future of the Classic, and about the quality of athletes participating, particularly in the Pennsylvania roster which has suffered in recent years due to some of the state's best bypassing the Big 33 in favor of other games or activities. Although the series between Ohio and Pennsylvania is tied at 12-12, the Buckeye state contingent has won the last 3 games, most recently last year's 50-14 drubbing of the Keystone state squad.
This year's Pennsylvania all-stars hope to reverse that trend, and it is a determined group working out under Blue Mountain head coach Mike Brennan in preparation for Saturday's game. Future Nittany Lions Evan Schwan (DL), Nyeem Wartman (LB) and Eugene Lewis (WR) figure to be a big part of the mix.
All three took a few minutes on Wednesday afternoon to chat with FOS about their thoughts on the game, and on their June 24th reporting date to Penn State, and all were animated in their excitement for being a part of the new era in Penn State football. For Wartman and Schwan, the change in leadership in Happy Valley is not a complete turnaround, as Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden remain in their positions. For Lewis, there is excitement for being a part of the new Lion offense, and for competing to get on the field following the departure of several key PSU receivers.
Schwan spoke positively about the conditioning program outlined to him by Craig Fitzgerald. At 234 lbs, he told FOS that the staff will be working with him to add some good weight in order to go up against the bigger linemen in the Big Ten. Wartman, addressing the Sandusky situation, expressed sentiments shared by the others that Penn State is still the place he wants to be, and a great school that is not defined by the actions of an individual long removed.
All three young Lions display a quiet confidence as they prepare for Saturday's Big 33 Classic, and for their careers at Penn State.
The honorary chairman for this year's Big 33 classic is Ben Roethlisberger. The game kicks off at 7:00 PM on Saturday, June 16 from Hersheypark Stadium, and will be telecast on PCN and the NFL Network.