One of Randy Edsall's goals in his final year at Susquehannock High School in Glen Rock, Pa., was to be named to the Pennsylvania roster for the Big 33 Football Classic.
Although he wasn't selected for the 1976 game despite being an all-state quarterback, the Maryland football coach was ecstatic last October when he learned the state of Maryland would return to the high school football all-star game this year.
The Maryland Football Coaches Association signed a five-year agreement with the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation, Inc., last fall to renew the state's participation in the game after a 21-year hiatus. This year's game is scheduled for a 7:06 p.m. kickoff tonight at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity. It's a great recognition for the players in the game," Edsall said. "It would have been a great honor and great thrill to play in that game, but now, with Maryland back involved with the game, I think it's important for the players here in Maryland. You hope that they aspire to do the same thing."
Catonsville running back DeAndre' Lane, who will play for the Terps in the fall after participating in the Big 33 game, thinks his future coach's wishes will come to fruition.
"After this year, younger guys will realize that it's a big thing and to make sure they not only do their sport on the field, but also keep it together in the classroom," Lane said.
The showcase game has long been a circle-on-the-calendar event for Edsall, who said he used to speak at banquets prior to the game during his time as a college assistant coach in the 1980s and 1990s. Edsall said his sister, Diane Winter, opened her house to serve as one of the host families for the game's participants for more than a decade.
Being selected to the Big 33 Football Classic is more than an invitation to play a football game — it's a week-long event.
While there for the week prior to the game, players live with a host family, enjoy Hersheypark, and interact in a one-on-one atmosphere with a special-needs child through the event's buddy program.
"It's definitely different. It's not what I'm used to, but overall it's been good, and I'm having a good time with the buddy," Lane said. "We're making a difference in their lives, and it's always good to give back. Even though it's not our community, we can still make a name for ourselves as Maryland out there."
Edsall said he believes the event serves a great purpose. Players he has coached who have played in the game in prior years have always spoken highly of their experience.
"It's like a bowl game for the high school kids," Edsall said.
Some past participants in the Big 33 game have gone on to play in much bigger bowls.
"I think the thing that is really significant about it is the fact that there's never been a Super Bowl played without a Big 33 alumnus in the game," Edsall said. "That goes to show you the kind of talent that plays in that game."
Edsall won't be in attendance Saturday night — the NCAA now outlaws involvement of any kind by college coaches — but he will be watching on television.
He'll closely watch the performances of the five future Terps in the game — Lane, Gilman quarterback Shane Cockerille, Annapolis Area Christian defensive back Elvis Dennah, Bishop McNamara defensive back Milan Collins and Avalon defensive back Jaquille Veii.
Edsall encouraged the five to participate Saturday night, saying he's not concerned about potential injuries.
"Hey, they can go down to Ocean City a week before the game and get hurt down there just as much as they could playing football," Edsall said.
The state's return to the game, which is often referred to as the "Super Bowl of High School Football," comes a year before Edsall's Terps will leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten Conference, which features Penn State as one of their closest geographical rivals.
Edsall anticipates pitting the state of Maryland's best against Pennsylvania's best at the high school level will develop into a rivalry that could then grow more passionate at the collegiate level for the Terps and Nittany Lions.