Officials of Pennsylvania's Big 33 Football Classic have said goodbye to Ohio's best high school football players and hello again to Maryland's.
For the past 21 years, the prestigious high school football all-star game featured Ohio vs. Pennsylvania, but the 2013 game will renew the rivalry between Maryland and Pennsylvania, who last met in the Big 33 game in 1992.
"We think it's the premier all-star game in the country," said Joe Russo, president of the Maryland Football Coaches Association. "And we think that it will just highlight our football players and how good they are and how they rank with other parts of the country."
Maryland Football Coaches Association officials have signed a five-year agreement with the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation, Inc., to play in the game held at Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania. The 57th PNC Big 33 Football Classic is scheduled for June 15.
Maryland played Pennsylvania in the Big 33 game between 1985 and 1992, winning two of the eight meetings, but Maryland high school football has gotten a lot better since then.
Russo said the state's return to the Big 33 game reflects that.
"When we started the coaches association in the 1980s, we formed together to try to improve football in our state and to highlight our players across the state," Russo said. "When we started, we had 12 scholarship players and now we're up to 75-80, so Maryland football has really improved. That comes from coaching and things that the kids do to try to make themselves better."
Russo, a former Hammond coach who has been president of the coaches association since 1992, said the first priority will be to select the coaching staff. After that, they will begin accepting player nominations. A combine will also be held to help coaches evaluate players, with the roster likely finalized in February.
"We want to try to spread it across the state," Russo said. "With 75 Division I players, 34 players [for the final roster], that's going to be hard to select. We have a plan where we have district reps throughout the state and we'll get nominations from every part of the state and we're really looking at Division I scholarship offers. Once we get the coaching staff, they'll look at the nominations and look at the kids live and make their selections."
Players who play in two other all-star games, such as the Crab Bowl and the Chesapeake Bowl, will be eligible for the Big 33 game, Russo said, because NCAA rules restricting players to two all-star games do not include games played after graduation.
The Big 33 game, often referred to as "the Super Bowl of high school football," has gone through several formats in its long existence, including games with Texas and with national all-stars. According to Big 33 officials, every NFL Super Bowl has included at least one veteran of the Big 33 game.