On the outskirts of Amish country, Reggie White is treating this warm June week as if it’s October.
He and 38 All-Stars from across Maryland shipped up to Harrisburg, Pa., for the week to compete in the 2018 Big 33 Football Classic on Saturday, a midsummer exhibition that pits Maryland’s top crop of players headed to college teams in the fall against an equal set of Pennsylvanians.
“Everything’s already been scripted. We’re going into it like a regular week of practice like we would at any one of our high schools,” said White, who will coach the Maryland team. “A few trick plays of course, anything of that nature we’ll do. We’re raring to go. The guys want to get some equipment on.”
White, usually Milford Mill’s head coach, has compiled a roster he believes could finally down the beast, Pennsylvania, a rival that has left Maryland disappointed in four of the past five Big 33 games played since Maryland rejoined the event in 2013.
“We’ve got some special running backs, and [quarterback Doc] Bonner can throw that ball to [wide receiver] Ugo Obasi, and [tight end] Donta Anthony,” White said. “Pick of the litter, that’s what it’s going to be.”
Maryland lost last summer’s game, 44-33, after being unable to quash Pennsylvania’s four-touchdown run in the second half.
“They’ve been running this game for a long time. You just got to put your best foot forward when you’re playing them, and understand they’ve got one of the best football programs in the United States,” White said. “[Pennsylvania’s] up there with Florida and Texas as far as football. You’ve just got to be prepared and ready to go.”
That’s why in the weeks leading up to Saturday, White and his coaching staff have beefed up a defensive unit that could disintegrate a Pennsylvania drive.
Former Dunbar linebacker Shaun Tolbert thinks so anyway.
“Our defense is going to come up big and make a lot of stops,” he said.
Tolbert is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound Bowie State commit whose Hudl highlight reel showed a player that was omnipresent on the field, magnetized to offensive players and often at the center of a busted play.
But to Tolbert, his midplay skills aren’t the only assets he’ll deploy Saturday.
“Encourage my teammates,” he said. “I encourage my teammates, even when things are going bad, that things are going to be straight.”
In December, Tolbert and the Poets earned their 10th state football crown.
Though the linebacker doesn’t know many of his Big 33 teammates well, he feels he’s connected with them through the time they’ve spent together so far.
“We all love the game of football. We’ll all come together, somehow,” he said.
There is one player Tolbert has operated alongside before — former Dunbar wide receiver Alfonzo Graham.
“He’s so special, so dynamic,” White said of Graham. “He’s a turning force. He’s going to be exciting to watch, super speedy, shifty, all that good stuff.”
Despite having a familiar figure in Tolbert he could stick by, Graham has spread out in practices so far, comfortably running plays with guys he’d only ever stared through a mask at or never seen before.
“Opening [up] more, speaking. They’re good players,” he said. “[The game will be] great exposure, meeting my buddies I’ll be down with in a week and learning a new experience.”
Big 33 rules stipulate both teams need to conduct a 60-40 pass-to-run ratio. Sizing more as a running force at 5-8, Graham will capitalize on his silver toes and his “vision” every chance he can.
“You plan on bringing home the ‘W,’ ” he said.
Despite calls to move up the game to the spring so players headed to Power 5 schools could participate before leaving their schools’ summer camps, the Big 33 Classic continued as usual in the second full week of June again.
A contentious issue for some, the stagnation became an opportunity for former Perry Hall quarterback Tyler Holley.
The coaching staff initially selected two quarterbacks — Kevin Doyle, of Washington’s St. John’s College High, and Bonner — but lost Doyle when he reported to Arizona early.
“With [three] of the Big 33 coaches being some of Milford’s coaching staff, going back to my game against Milford Mill, I had a pretty good game that I feel stood out to them and caught their eye,” he said.
In that 49-42 September loss to Milford Mill, Holley was a highlight, going 17-for-28 for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
Headed to Morgan State in the fall, Holley views Saturday’s game as a chance to pit himself against Pennsylvanians destined for Division I and II universities — to evolve from a Perry Hall star to a playmaker worthy of his college jersey.
“Honestly, I just want to go out there and compete to the ability I know I can. Also bring Maryland home a win — that’s what’s most important,” he said. “It’s an all-star game, we plan to win, so we just want to go out there and have some fun and play the game that we love.”
Here is Maryland’s Big 33 roster:
Doc Bonner, Quince Orchard
Tyler Holley, Perry Hall
Julius Chestnut, Archbishop Spalding
Antwan Squire, Suitland
Alfonzo Graham, Dunbar
Jamari Jones, Archbishop Spalding
Ugo Obasi, Milford Mill
Deshawn Ruffin, Edmondson
Anthony May, Meade
Matthew McDonald, Mount Saint Joseph
Antonio Derry, St. Frances
Noah Hayes, Oxon Hill
Jamie Romo, St. Mary’s
Will Knutsson, McDonogh/River Bend (Pa.)
Michael Corbi, Mount Saint Joseph
Josh Miller, St. Frances
Alan Gorny, Howard
Donta Anthony, Potomac
Cooper McGeehan, River Hill
Matthew Betterelli, Damascus
Rudy Ngougni, Montgomery Blair
Nicholas White, Milford Mill
Malik Morgan, St. Frances
Randy Robinson, North Hagerstown
Noah Buttiglieri, Westminster
Anthony Childress, Suitland
Ryan Kearney, Howard
Chris Rhodes, Jr., Wise
Frankie Stevens, Franklin
Shaun Tolbert, Dunbar
Karson Robinette, Allegany
Demetri Morsell, Wise
Eric Weaver, Meade
Brandon Savage, Milford Mill
Terrell Smith, St. Frances
Jahlil Brown, St. Frances
Christian Benford, Randallstown
Ehizele Akojie, Wise