Big 33 Notes

Sights, impressions and observations from the Big 33 game

  • One of the great things about the Big 33 game is getting to meet the families of the players. We all too often forget that the players we cheer for are human beings, and young ones at that. Visiting and talking with the moms and dads and aunts and uncles is a good reminder that these are still just kids that are embarking on a demanding new phase in their lives.

    Among those I had a chance to visit with were the parents of Carmen Connolly, Tim Reed, and Steve Slaton. Although Slaton was unable to attend the game, his mother, father and brother came to the game to, in the words of his mother Juanita, "represent him and be here for him." With support like that, it's easy to see why Slaton is so thoughtful and well-spoken for a college freshman.

    Connolly Gear
    Connolly easily won the competition for biggest entourage at the game. The Seton-LaSalle graduate numbered several aunts and cousins, along with a sister and numerous friends, in attendance. Almost all of them were wearing "Connolly 7" shirts for the game.

  • One of the pregame attractions was a hover and flyby performed by the Penn State "Life Lion" medical helicopter. However, one of those maneuvers nearly resulted in a few casualties – which is what the aircraft and crew are trained to respond to, not cause.

    As the chopper flew over the stadium and then descended to hover just a few feet over the field, the wash from the giant rotor blew up a storm of the small bits of rubber that cushion the Field Turf surface of HersheyPark Stadium. The many people on the field, including the cheerleaders, media members and game workers, suddenly found out firsthand what it is like to be in a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert. The blasting continued for at least thirty seconds while the hot-dogging pilot continued his maneuver. In my book, it was just another reason to dislike Penn State.

  • In addition to the Mountaineers-to-be, a couple of other names that should be familiar to WVU recruiting fans were in action during the game. Linebacker LaRondo Tucker of Bishop McDevitt High School and offensive lineman Nate "Big Rig" Hartung of Butler High both played for Pennsylvania, and both could still have West Virginia on their radar screens in the future.

    Tucker (6-2, 235 lbs.) a big linebacker, drew some interest from WVU during his senior season, and is now headed for Lackawanna Junior College in Pennsylvania. West Virginia is very familiar with that school, having taken a number of players from there over the years, including hard-hitting defensive back Shawn Hackett and offensive lineman Brock Holland. Tucker told that he is still interested in West Virginia, and hoped to hear from them in the future as his juco career progresses.

    Hartung, who once tipped the scales at more than 450 pounds, was down to 380 for the game, in which he performed very well. Hartung had some monumental battles with Cincinnati-bound nose guard Terrill Byrd, who was the most highly acclaimed of the eight future Bearcats on the field.

    Hartung will also be unavailable to Division I schools over the next two years, but for a different reason than Tucker. The massive lineman will take the next two years away from football to serve his Mormon mission in New Zealand.

    "I'm still planning on dropping more weight while I complete my mission," said Hartung, who hopes to play at around 350 pounds when he returns to the United States. "At this point, I'm interested in anyone that will look at me. West Virginia had offered me a scholarship, so I will definitely be interested in them if they are still there."

    If Hartung can maintain, or regain, the level of performance he showed in the Big 33 game, he would definitely be worth another look. He displayed good feet, especially for a man of his size, and obviously has no problems in the strength department. Mountaineer fans definitely want to file both of these names away for consideration in 2007.

  • One of the highlights of the pregame was the national anthem, performed beautifully by a local quartet. You can't beat four-part harmony, and these four men put on a pitch-perfect performance.

  • The same couldn't be said for a few other area of the game operation. One problem area in particular was the television production, as not all of the TV workers were familiar with the intricacies of putting on a live game broadcast. Twice during the contest, a female operator of one of the field microphones got in the way of the sideline official, and the resulting collisions knocked both ref and TV crewperson flying.

  • Former Notre Dame star Raghib "Rocket" Ismail was the honorary chairman of this year's game, and to his credit the former CFL and NFL player jumped into game activities with gusto. While many players and coaches in that position perform the required duties and then hide for the rest of the contest, Ismail was very visible, signing autographs along the sidelines and greeting everyone with smiles and good cheer.

    Ismail even stepped in to help the Big 33 cheerleaders when they struggled with a slingshot designed to hurl rolled-up T-Shirts in the stands. When one girl couldn't quite get the hang of getting shirts airborne with the device, the Rocket sprang into action. He grabbed the sling and pulled it back so far that he toppled one of the high school boys holding an end of the slingshot to the ground. Amid much laughter, Ismail readjusted his draw and fired a bullet toward the top of the stands.

  • While having my traditional milkshake(s) at Hershey's Chocolate World before the game, I spotted a group of people at an adjacent table that I probably won't be joining anytime in the near future. One man at the table was wearing a Pitt shirt, while his companion was decked out in Notre Dame gear. It was almost enough to put me off my chocolate shake. Almost.

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