I recently had a chance to check out the Big 33 practices this week. Just as is always the case, I came away with a special feeling about the game and the event.
On Monday morning the players spent time with their "buddies", local disabled children. This is after all a charity event. This years event will feature a golf outing at Hershey CC on Friday and a Banquet later that evening. This year's keynote speaker is 1979 Big33 participant and local hero Jeff Hostetler. Tickets are still available for both functions.
On Monday afternoon and evening the teams held two practices. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with both teams as they prepared for the big game. One of the things the organizers very much try to stress with the young men playing in the game is to represent yourself with class. They obviously do a good job of it too as evidenced by the way these young men carry themselves.
Tyler Palko seemed especially eager to get on the field. "It's awesome, it's such a great great honor to follow in the footsteps of the great QB's that have played in this game before me and to be around such a great group of guys". Tyler told me that he felt the Pennsylvania squad had a lot of weapons at wide receiver, "they're all awesome athletically and really talented".
Tyler also had some good things to say about the offense that Coach George Curry of Berwick high was installing, "Coach Curry is a great coach and he's going to put us in position to win the game. This offense might normally take a year to learn and we're trying to learn it in a week, but we should be ready".
Josh Hannum is not only excited about playing in the Big33 game, but he's also excited about playing in big games at Penn State, "that's the thing about Penn State, every game is a big game. Any team can knock anyone off in the Big10 and you have to go out and play every game like it's a big game". Josh isn't taking the Big33 game lightly though, he told me he's been very impressed with the quality of athlete on the PA squad, "Perry Patterson and Tyler Palko, those boys have some arms. I'm just trying to get the hands down and catch those rocket shots". Josh must have gotten it down pretty quick because he caught a lot of balls in the practice I saw, including making one play that drew some ooh's from the crowd when he put a couple of moves on one of the corners and left him grasping air.
I didn't get a chance to really talk much with the other wide receivers in this game, but they sure looked good in practice. Steve Breaston made several big plays and Maurice Stovall waged a bigtime battle with cornerback Jaren Hayes (MSU). Hayes was perhaps the single most impressive skill player I saw at practice. He's not only extremely fast and quick, but he's powerful too.
Brian Borgoyn (PSU) was excited about the game "We have to protect these QB's, that's our job up front". When I asked him if any of those good defensive linemen on the Ohio squad were going to get by him he said "I'm going to do my best to make sure it doesn't happen".
Brian is also excited about having just spent three weeks up at State College. We spoke about the weight training he's doing, "It's intense". Brian then told me with a smile, "Previously, just lifting weights was fun, you're not really killing yourself, but up there you're lifting and the first day you're in the trash can".
I asked Brian one more question. I asked him how he felt about being part of a positive turnaround at Penn State "I think I'm coming in with a lot of talented guys. I just spent three weeks up there getting to know some of these guys and I'm really excited. There's definitely a lot of talent there to make it happen".
Brian actually had a lot of nice things to say about one upperclassman as well, "Jimmy Kennedy took me around and showed me some things. He helped me with the sprints and pushed me to keep up. He's definitely a leader".
I never did get a chance to speak with Mark Farris (PSU), but he looked particularly impressive in practice drills. The linemen on the PA squad are being coached by Mark Schmitt of Class AAAA state champ Neshaminy HS. Mark played at one of the two DT spots in the practice I saw. The other DT spot was being manned by Downingtown's Brandon Darlington who will also play some TE.
The nose tackle in the mandatory 5-2 front will be Upper Darby's Rashid Stoury (WVU) while the DE's were Mike Mailey of St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia, Steve Buches of Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Tom Parks who is headed to Delaware and Andy Decker of Berwick.
The linebackers for the PA squad are Pat Bedics of Becahi, Manny Rojas of West Allegheny and Justin Stull of Manheim Township. The defensive backs are Jaren Hayes from Cedar Crest HS, Jovon Johnson from Erie is at corner, Jermaine Moye from Rochester at safety, and Eddie Scipio, also from Becahi, and Dwayne Blackman of Williamsport are at the other corner spot. Ryan Gore from Washington HS in Philadelphia played both safety and linebacker.
The top players on this defense from my vantage point were Farris, Blackman, and Jaren Hayes. Hayes really impressed me.
The offensive line for the PA team had Borgoyn at LT, Gene Rich of CB West at LG, Mark Muschel at C, Dan Mozes at RG, and Bob Benion at RT. Chris Thomas from Mechanicsburg who is headed to Iowa will also play at the tackle spot.
Steve Buches and Brandon Darlington will play at TE on offense. Justin Stull looks to play at fullback and Jamar Brittingham, Eddie Scipio, and Jawan Walker will play at running back.
Tyler Palko and Perry Patterson will play the QB spot. Both looked very good in practice with Patterson throwing his usual hot laser type ball and Palko just lofting some nice passes to his wide outs. Palko also took off and gained about 25 yards on one run out of the pocket when no one seemed to get open, but mostly he seemed content to just sit in the pocket and throw the ball. He threw it very nicely too.
Danny Melendez (MD) and Ian Firestone (NC) will add depth at wide receiver after Maurice Stovall (ND), Steve Breaston (UM), and Josh Hannum (PSU). The PA team very much impressed me with their skill players. Walker may be the top running back in the game and the Pennsylvania wide outs are going to be very tough to cover.
Matt Domonkos from Bishop McCourt (Wis) will handle the kicking duties for the PA squad and he was seen sending rockets up from 50 yards along the sideline. This kid has a big leg and will make Badger fans happy after a redshirt year.
But this game has a squad from Ohio too. The Ohio team will be coached by Jack Rose from Canton Glen Oak HS.
Ohio has some very fine skill players in this game, and quarterback Justin Zwick is probably the marquee name here. Justin has a very good arm and good pocket presense and vision too. I watched him throw one ball after another right on the money for about 45 minutes. If the Ohio offensive line can protect Zwick then he'll put some points on the board.
The top back for Ohio in this game is probably Erick Phillips who is headed to West Virginia. He's a big kid at about 205lbs. who can run right over defenders. Ohio left several talented tailbacks at home including Maurice Clarett (OSU), Donnie Johnson (PSU), and DeShawn Wynn (Florida).
Northwestern signee Mark Philmore is probably the top pass target for Ohio. I watched him make an absolutely spectacular catch on one pass where he had All-American EJ Underwood draped all over him. Keep an eye on this kid.
The Ohio offensive line will feature three future Buckeyes in TJ Downing, Robert Sims, and Nick Mangold. None of these guys are the next Orlando Pace, but they are all good football players with good feet and a lot of potential going forward.
The Ohio defense is led by several future Buckeyes as well. Mike Kudla garnered a lot of recruiting hype last year and he'll line up at one DE spot, Joel Penton will be at DT, Tim Scheaffer at DE, and the kid that really stood out to me, DE Jay Richardson. Richardson is about 6' 6" and 245lbs. and plays very physical and very fast. Ohio has another LB/DE type kid to keep an eye on in Bryan Andrews who is a tall lean and very quick kid who is headed to Wake Forest.
Penn State freshman to be Robert Price is at NT in this game and he looks like he's ready. At 6' 2" and 305lbs. he is very strong and not easily moved.
Ohio State recruit AJ Hawk is appropriately named since he's a ball hawk at linebacker. Hawk will lead the Ohio linebacking crew in this game.
The Ohio secondary has a real bigtime player in corner EJ Underwood who reminds me a little of Marlin Jackson who played in this game a year ago. Underwood is headed to Ohio State as is Tyler Everett who will man the opposite corner spot along with Michigan State signee Ashton Watson. Minnesota commit Trumaine Banks is also in the secondary and he is very fast.
I had an opportunity to speak with Ohio head coach Jack Rose. I think he may have put this game in perspective best. "It's just a tremendous event to be a part of with all the great tradition and history of this game. All they do for charities here, it's just special for me to be here". Coach Rose may have also had the best outlook on which team might be able to pull off a win in the game "the team that protects the QB best is going to win this game, it's that simple".
Having watched a couple of practices, I agree with the coach. I just don't know which team it might be. This is just too close to call for me. Maybe you'll just have to tune in and watch it Saturday night at 7pm. Better yet, why not just come out for a great evening in Central Pennsylvania and enjoy the show!