When Tony Kennedy founded the I-95 Kickoff Classic, he wanted to bring more attention to Maryland high school football, and he has done that even before the first kickoff.
Kennedy has pulled together many of the state's top football programs — including Gilman, Good Counsel and DeMatha — for a Labor Day weekend showcase already rated the No.3 classic in the country by MaxPreps. The classic's five games Friday night and Saturday at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium feature four showdowns between teams from the state's top private school conferences: the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
"When you mention the state of Maryland, you always think of basketball and, in some aspects, you think of lacrosse, but at the highest level that anybody can go to in any sport, we have more in football than any other sport from our state. When you're talking about professional sports, we're putting them out for what's considered a non-football state," said Kennedy, president of Extra Point Productions, which coordinates the Classic; he would like to expand it to include public schools and out-of-state teams.
Some of the players in this year's Classic could be on their way to NFL careers. Division I schools have made offers to 47 of them, including scout.com's top two Maryland prospects, Good Counsel offensive tackle Chris Kouandjio and Gilman quarterback Darius Jennings.
"I think it puts good exposure on Maryland MIAA football, and honestly if you can compete with DeMatha, Good Counsel, you can compete on the national level," said McDonogh coach Dom Damico, whose Eagles start the Classic against Gonzaga tonight at 7.
"I go all over the country and watch high school football," Damico said, "and DeMatha and Good Counsel … can play anybody in the country any week."
Gilman, The Baltimore Sun's No. 1 team and the defending A Conference champion, meets Good Counsel, the defending WCAC champ, in the classic's finale Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Good Counsel, ranked No. 9 in the country and No. 1 in the East by USA Today, comes into the game fresh off a nationally televised 21-6 win Sunday over St. Xavier of Cincinnati while the Greyhounds, ranked No. 7 in the East, took a 41-14 victory in their opener Friday night at No. 6 Archbishop Spalding.
"It's two great leagues, and I think it's great to bring people in to Unitas Stadium," Gilman coach Biff Poggi said. "We really like playing there. I think it's going to be a great couple of days of high school football. I saw that Good Counsel is ranked No. 1 in the East and 10th or something in the country and they're just absolutely loaded. I honestly don't even like thinking about them, because they are ridiculous, they're so good."
I-95 Kickoff Classic
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University
•No. 10 McDonogh vs. Gonzaga, 7 p.m.
•Mount St. Joseph vs. Bishop McNamara, 10:30 a.m.
•No. 6 Archbishop Spalding vs. No. 7 Calvert Hall, 1:30 p.m.
•No. 14 Loyola vs. DeMatha, 4:30 p.m.
•No. 1 Gilman vs. Good Counsel, 7:30p.m.
Tickets: $11 at the gate; $8 for 13 and under wearing football jerseys