Pa. Big 33 Team Gathers

NCAA rules allowing colleges to pay summer school tution for incoming freshman football recruits have caused the Big 33 Classic to move its game date from late July to mid June this year. So when the Pennsylvania squad gathered for its first practice at Penn State Sunday, there was a sense of urgency in the air.

“It's a great group of kids,” said Pennsylvania coach Mark Schmidt, whose all-star team will take on a group of top prospects from Ohio in Hershey June 17. “Everybody was here on time and ready to go. It's great.”

Five Penn State scholarship recruits are on the team as well as walk-on kicker Collin Wagner.

The Pennsylvania squad practiced from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on the outdoor practice field near the Lasch Building, taking an hour for lunch and meetings at noon. This was a non-contact session, with the 33 athletes outfitted only in their gold helmets, shorts and T-shirts. The linemen spent most of the day practicing on one end of the artificial turf field and the skills players on the other.

Schmidt, the head coach at Eastern powerhourse Neshaminy, said the first day was as much about everyone getting comfortable with one another as it was about X's and O's. Full practices with pads will take place in the week leading up to the game.

“We were just getting them on the same page and getting them to understand that we feel they are the best players for the game,” Schmidt said. “A couple guys might have to play another position or a side of the ball they might not play as much, but fitting into the scheme we feel it was, by far, the group of guys who can beat Ohio.”

Schmidt offered quick scouting reports on the Penn State scholarship recruits on the roster, two of whom he knew extremely well even before landing the Big 33 job this year. The players' names are followed by the primary position they are expected to play in the Classic:

Tom McEowen, DL

(McEowen played for Schmidt at Neshaminy High)

SCHMIDT: “I have had him since eighth grade. He's been great. Working as hard or even harder than last year. It's a challenge to him. He wants to make a statement about himself and represent his new school and his old school. I couldn't ask for more from him.”

FOS QUICK THOUGHTS: McEowen has clearly been spending a lot of time in the weight room. His arms are very large. We caught a one-on-one leverage drill where he went against future PSU teammate Odrick and the two fought to a stalemate.

Abe Koroma, DL

SCHMIDT: “I got to meet Abe at our Hershey clinic. What a good kid. What a really, really good kid he is. I just think he's one of those guys who can really step up for us and be a good player.”

FOS QUICK THOUGHTS: Koroma weighs 280 pounds but has a thick build. He'll be a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense in this game and a run-stuffer in Penn State 4-3.

Jared Odrick, DL

SCHMIDT: “I think he's very good. He's an athletic son of a gun. The thing with us is, you don't see those big 380-pound kids. But every guy here can run.”

FOS QUICK THOUGHTS: Odrick is down to around 280 pounds now and is extremely quick for his size. Nothing is set in stone, but don't be surprised if you see a front three of Koroma in the middle, with Odrick and McEowen flanking him.

Travis McBride, RB

SCHMIDT: “Fast. The guy can run. And big. A big guy. He's gonna play tailback for us. He might even help us a little bit on defense in the secondary, be a nickel-linebacker kind of guy. We're gonna get him out of the backfield and into some passing routes, too, because he can catch the ball.”

FOS QUICK THOUGHTS: As Schmidt said, McBride is definitely a multipurpose back. He looked as comfortable as some of the receivers while running passing routes.

Pat Devlin, QB

(Devlin played for Downingtown East, a rival of Neshaminy):

SCHMIDT: “I'm thrilled. He better play half as good as he played against me. What a great kid. He has such a good attitude. Good parents. Just a good guy. He's so into doing this and he knows there's a lot on it. But he's so loose. Those shoulders, there's been a lot of weight on them, but he's dealt with it very well.”

FOS QUICK THOUGHTS: Devlin looks much more sturdy than he did even on signing day, and significantly thicker than some of the junior year photos that are still floating around the Internet. He throws a nice deep ball and showed good touch while working on fade patterns.


• Game director Mickey Minnich said the Big 33 and the state coaches will meet in Altoona, Pa., June 24 to decide whether to maintain the current series with Ohio or drop it in favor of a new deal with Maryland. The change in tuition rules for freshmen forced the Big 33 to be played on the same day as Ohio's North-South All-Star Game, so the Buckeye State squad figures to be watered down to some degree this year.

• If Sunday's practice was any indication, the Pennsylvania offense is going to be fun to watch. Without giving away any info that could give the opponent a competitive edge, fans should expect to see everything and anything.

• Only one player could not make it to the Sunday session. Pitt recruit Nate Nix was on a family vacation in Hawaii and his absence was excused. The other 33 players (kickers don't count toward the total) were all on hand.

• Harrisburg standout Jeremiha Hunter has been added to the roster in place of DB Lance Jeter, who pulled out of the game for unspecified reasons. Defensive back Clem Johnson, who played quarterback at Carlisle, replaced Darrin Walls. According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Walls, a Notre Dame recruit, pulled out of the game due to a shoulder injury.


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