Franklin players ready for Big 33 Football Classic

Brothers Marquise and Reggie Ellis and their Franklin High teammate Malik Jackson understand the rich history of the Big 33 Football Classic.

The three seniors will be competing in the 56th installment of the Pennsylvania-based All-Star game featuring elite players from Maryland and Pennsylvania for the first time since 1992.

This is the ninth change in opponents during the Big 33's history, which has included national all-star teams, an all-Pennsylvania East-West format, and all-star teams from Texas, Ohio, and Maryland.

In the eight games between the Mason-Dixon border states that began in 1985, Maryland won in 1991 (17-9) and 1987 (26-22).

Past participants include some of the greatest players in football history, including Joe Montana, Mike Munchak, Jim Nance, Dan Marino, Jeff Hostetler, Tony Dorsett, Joe Namanth, Jim Kelly and Ben Roethlisberger.

With that kind of lineage, it's not surprising the game will be televised on the NFL Network (July 15 at Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania).

"Every Super Bowl had someone who played in this game," said Marquise, a wide receiver who will suit up for Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia on a football scholarship. "It's a very big accomplishment to make this team. There are a lot of big-time players. It's like a high school Super Bowl."

Jackson and the Ellis brothers qualified for the team after trying out with more than 100 others players at the Baltimore Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.

The Maryland team will be coached by Gilman's Biff Poggi and two of his players, quarterback Shane Cockerville (University of Maryland) and Henry Poggi (University of Michigan), highlight its roster.

"I think for Franklin to have three people selected to play in this game is fantastic," Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said. "It's really a big honor for them to be playing in this game with its tradition."

Reggie and Marquise are known for their big-play ability.

Reggie, a running back and wide receiver, rushed for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns on 71 carries (12.8 yard average) last year to help Franklin to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Class 2A North Region final, where the Indians lost to Milford Mill, 33-28.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder dual-purpose threat also caught 24 passes for 10 touchdowns and 637 yards (26.5 average) and was a three-year starting cornerback.

"He was definitely one of the most explosive players in the metro area," Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said. "He's got a high skill set. He's maybe an inch or 2 short to get an opportunity at Division I-A level. But I think he's a guy who is going to have an excellent college career. He is very versatile. He can play offense or defense."

When Franklin quarterback Jackson Thornton wasn't looking to get the ball to Reggie, he sought out the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Marquise, who grabbed 37 passes for 552 yards and seven touchdowns while also starting at free safety.

"He is a big wide receiver who has phenomenal hands," Burgos said. "He can catch the ball really well and is very competitive. He is just starting to hit the peak of his career."

Of the three, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound linebacker Jackson might be the most intriguing.

He was relatively unknown coming into last season after missing half of the 2011 campaign because of a high ankle sprain.

Jackson transferred to Franklin after starting at middle linebacker, defensive tackle and offensive guard at Owings Mills High as a sophomore.

He will play in the fall for Towson University on a scholarship after turning down similar offers from Central Connecticut and Coastal Carolina universities, West Virginia Wesleyan College and the University of Charleston.

"He really had nothing going on," Burgos said interest from colleges. "He demonstrated how hard work can get you results. He had a tremendous senior year."

That's when Jackson made 116 tackles, including 16 for a loss. He also recorded four hurries, a sack and intercepted two passes for touchdowns, returning one for a touchdown.

Jackson said a poor 2011 motivated him to shine last fall.

"I worked my butt off so I could have an explosive year," he said.

Jackson and the Ellis brothers just can't wait for the Big 33 kickoff.

"This has been on my mind since I made the team," said Jackson, noting he and other players will be spending time in the week leading up to the game with special-needs kids. "The history of this game is unreal."

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