I had the chance on Monday to stop by Big33 practices in Hershey, Pa. and get a quick peak at the two teams in this year's game. As usual, there were many fine athletes in attendance. The afternoon started off with former Penn State players Rich Rosa and Eddie Johnson giving the two squads a brief talk about the challenges of college life. Their theme - get an education and make lasting friendships, work hard, and the football end of things will take care of itself.
Here is a look at some of the key players in this year's game.
Paul Posluszny looks very good. He is very quick to react to plays and he's a very good athlete. He will certainly get on the field at Penn State. He told me that 10 of the 11 incoming freshmen are on campus at Penn State already (Amani Purcell from American Samoa being the exception) and working out with the team. Paul has been involved in 7 on 7 drills with the team this summer and says that Gino Capone is running the defensive units while Zack Mills is running the offensive players in drills.
I asked Paul who were the top LB's to look for on Penn State this fall and he immediately talked about Capone, Derek Wake, and Deryck Toles. Paul is a very good looking 6'3" and 220lbs, and Rich Rosa was complimenting his play all afternoon, but Paul told me he took one look at the upperclassmen on the team and knew he'd have to wait his turn to play. He didn't seem to mind and thought that would be the best way to go.
John Shaw has the biggest calves I have ever seen on someone his size. He is very explosive and powerful. Easily the best DT I saw on Monday, both sides included. He will be a stud at Penn State. John's nickname at Penn State is "calf", no doubt in reference to his sizeable lower leg muscles.
John has been demonstrating some very impressive physical skills already. At one recent running day at Penn State the team went thru 32 110's. John was in the "C" group that included the offensive linemen and the defensive tackles. John won all 32 110-yard sprints. Needless to say, he can really motor.
John is also very powerful. Joel Holler and John were doing some weight lifting in Hershey to stay fit and Joel recanted for me a story about John's strength and determination. John placed 315lbs. on the bench over the weekend and cranked out 7 reps. He then got mad at himself for not getting to 10 reps at that weight. Joel was pretty impressed though with what John had done.
If there is one lineman up there who has garnered everyone's respect it's John Shaw.
Speaking of Joel, he's very big. Joel told me he's currently around 360lbs. He knows he needs to drop some weight and that he's working hard to do so. He expects to be under 330lbs by September.
Kyle Smith from Harborcreek is headed to Pitt and looks like a very good DE. Kyle told me that Holler has very quick feet for a guy his size and that he expects Holler to be unreal when he drops some weight. Smith very much likes Holler's game. Holler had mutual respect for Smith. Kyle Smith is a pretty impressive looking DE prospect and should do very well at Pitt.
Brendan Perretta is super quick. He's came in at 5'9" and 160lbs., but he makes up for any lack of size with extremely quick feet. Brent Wise made several big plays today. Brent is very smooth and runs terrific routes. He looks like he's just gliding out on the field and I expect Wise and his former high school team mate Ardon Bransford to be two of PA's biggest pass targets in this game.
Austin Scott looks phenomenal, but they barely used him today in practice. I spoke with Austin for a few moments and he's just the nicest kid you'd ever want to meet. This applies to all the Penn State kids in general and it is certainly true with Austin. Scott told me he's just happy to be in the Big33 game and is not looking for personal achievements in the game. He just wants to have a good time this week and enjoy his final high school game.
The two PA quarterbacks, Marcus Stone (Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt, NC State) and Adam Bednarik (Becahi, WVU), both looked pretty good to me in practice. Both have strong arms and can get the ball out there.
Among the other skill players in the game, Ryan Mundy (Woodland Hills, Michigan) and Vince Beamer (McDevitt, WVU) looked very good, as did Travis Thomas at flanker (Washington HS, Notre Dame) and Brad Mueller (Mars, Boston College) in the secondary.
Among the big boys, those that stood out to me were Cody Morris (Hazelton HS, William and Mary), Cody Decker (Parkland, Hofstra), and John Quinn (St. Joe's Prep, Air Force).
The Pennsylvania team will be coached by Art Tragesser of Penn Trafford HS. His staff includes Gil Brooks from St. Joe's Prep, Jim Trent from Schenley HS, and Steve Schiffert from Easton Area HS among others.
Later on Monday I strolled over to the Ohio side of the practice fields and talked with their head man Mike Mauk. Mike was very classy and it was easy to see that he was all about teamwork. I asked Coach Mauk a variety of questions regarding which players the fans should look out for, but he refused to single anyone out and spoke only about teamwork.
Coach Mauk noted that he has a tough task ahead in stopping what he believes can be a potent Pennsylvania running attack led by Austin Scott. He felt that his team would have to have several players in front of Scott to stop him. "I don't think we can stop Scott if he gets out into one on one situations. I think we'll need to put a wall in front of him to stop him".
Coach Mauk has more than a few good players on his side though. After watching his team practice, here are some more thoughts on that.
Ohio has four of what I like to call "wow" players.
Shawn Crable, LB (Michigan) 6'5" 230, Ernie Wheelwright, WR (Minnesota) 6'5" 205, Louis Irizarry, WR/TE (OSU) 6'5" 230, and
Ben Mauk, QB (Wake Forest) all turn your head when you watch them.
Shawn Crable has the same skinny legs I saw on Lavar Arrington in this game a few years ago. While I am not ready to place any other Lavar comparisons on Shawn at this time, he is a very good-looking player.
Ernie Wheelwright is a tall WR with very good speed and athleticism. He can be a star at the Big10 level and certainly in this game as well. He gives QB Ben Mauk an easy pass target. He runs very good routes and has great hands.
Louis Irizarry is essentially a larger version of Wheelwright. Louis looks like a big WR more so than a TE at this point, so I'm not exactly certain how Ohio State will use him this year, but he looks good to go for this game. He's tall, athletic and fast.
The key to the Ohio team will be QB Ben Mauk. Ben ran a spread formation at Kenton HS and led his team to back-to-back small school state titles. When you see him throw the ball and run the offense you get an understanding of what he can do. He throws a ball that looks a lot like what Zack Mills does for Penn State. In other words, his throws are easy to catch and right on the money.
After watching Mauk for an hour I am really surprised Ohio State did not offer him. He has a strong arm when he needs it and his ability to put the ball on the money is uncanny. He is the type of kid that tends to win all-star games like this. As his father said to me "It's no secret what we like to do with Ben. We're going to spread it out and see what we can get."
Ohio has other players too. Some of the guys I liked that, if not "wow" players, still looked impressive to me were Kirk Barton, OT, OSU, Tony Gonzales, WR, OSU, Ray Edwards, LB, Purdue, and Curt Lukens, LB, OSU (he's a LB at OSU as well imho).
The next group of players I liked would be Reggie Smith, LB, OSU, Justin Valentine RB, Minn., Devin Jordan, WR, OSU, and Mike McGlynn, OT, Pitt, and Jarrod Gaines, DB, Miami of Ohio.
David Patterson will play in the game, but he did not practice today and I did not see him during the evening workout.
Do I have a Big33 prediction? Not really. I don't have a strong feel for the outcome this year like I have had the past few years. This Ohio squad scares the heck out of me. Just watching Mauk throw the ball all over the place in practice and knowing how good his primary receivers are it makes me think he can put some points up on the board. Then you have the PA squad and they look pretty good as well. I think Ohio has an edge on overall talent on the lines though.
Too close to call.
Some additional Penn State related items of note...
I spoke with one of the PA coaches in attendance who told me that he had worked the first session of Penn State's camp this summer. He told me a few things about Jed Hill, Mike Lucian, and Austin Hinton, all of whom he personally instructed at camp.
The coach told me that Hill looks very impressive. Very physically mature. He compared Hill to a TE that some of our fans had hoped we'd offer and told me it was a non-contest, Jed Hill was the kid we wanted. He said Hill looked so impressive physically that he'd probably be ready to play as a true freshman.
The coach liked Mike Lucian a lot. Talked about him being only 16 years old and that Lucian's father is 6'7" and 260lbs., so he thinks Mike will get a lot bigger. Said that with Mike's build he projects Mike will play either DT, OG or OT at Penn State. Says he has a good motor.
The coach really liked Austin Hinton and said he was the best OL at camp that first week. The coach reserved very high praise for Greg Harrison but stated that he did not work with Harrison that week at camp. As for Hinton, he said that Hinton is very athletic and has very good balance and power. He told me that Hinton's raw talent base is there for him to become a very good offensive lineman at Penn State and that our fans will be excited to see him play. No worries at all with this kid.
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