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Big 33 Football Classic moving to Memorial Day for a one-year trial in 2017

Big 33 football
(HANDOUT)

Since Maryland returned to the Big 33 Football Classic in 2013, about a dozen of the state's best players have skipped the June all-star game vs. Pennsylvania each year.

A few prefer to spend their last days before heading to college at the beach, but most have to report to campus for summer school before the all-star game. Losing so many top players has put Maryland at a disadvantage against a much larger state, and that played a part in the 26-14 loss in the latest game on June 18.

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Maryland coaches hope they have a better shot next year, when the Big 33 Classic moves to Memorial Day for the first time.

"The goal is to get our best players in the state to be able to play in the game," said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen, who heads the team selection committee. "What we've found is it's typically been a lot of ACC schools and we get a few kids every year going to SEC schools – those schools typically start their summer classes the first week in June, so a lot of kids want to play, they know about the game now that we've been back into it for a while, but they've got to report to summer school."

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Dave Trimbur, Big 33 Executive Director, said he thinks the move will benefit both teams.

"This is driven by both states," Trimbur said. "Each year, it seems the kids have to report earlier and earlier. When we renewed [the rivalry with Maryland] four years ago, kids may have been going that same weekend or the night after [the game], but it seems to be bumping up as early as June 1. We've heard this for two years, so now we going to go to Memorial Day and see how it goes."

While colleges in the two states, such as Maryland, Navy, Penn State and Pitt, have allowed their recruits to play in the Big 33 game, Van Deusen said that has benefited Pennsylvania more than Maryland.

"You look at the roster and I think there were about 18 kids going to FBS schools on the Pennsylvania roster. I think we might have had three or four," Van Deusen said. "I think they said there's like 580 high schools in Pennsylvania and we have 225 or 230 counting the private schools, so they're losing some of their top kids too, but with a bigger pool to choose from, if they lose six or eight kids, they have a lot of other big-time players to choose from."

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Next year's game, which will be played on Monday, May 29 at 4 p.m. at HerseyPark Stadium, is a one-year trial, but Maryland coaches hope it will stick.

Former Wilde Lake coach Doug Duvall, president of the Baltimore Touchdown Club, which helps run Maryland's Big 33 program, said there will be conflicts for some players, including state championships and graduation, but he expects to lose far fewer than the 10 to 15 players the team typically loses each year.

The schedule will be condensed from the week-long stay in Hershey with host families to four days. Players will meet their host families on Thursday night and then practice Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The popular Buddy Program, which pairs each player with a special needs child, will continue.

Players participating in state track or baseball finals will be able to report to the game after their championships on Saturday, Duvall said. No one would be asked to miss graduation, either. The same would apply in Pennsylvania, Timbur said.

Since returning to the Big 33 Classic in 2013 after a 21-year absence, Maryland has won just one of four games. Van Deusen coached the 2014 team that won 31-24 in double overtime.

In addition to the timing of the game, in mid-June, another challenge for Maryland's coaches has been getting players to embrace the tradition of the Big 33 game, which has had at least one alum in every Super Bowl. Because Pennsylvania has been part of all 58 games, it's more of a priority to players in that state. Maryland has played in just 12 games, including 1985-1992, and trails the series 9-3.

To Arundel's Chuck Markiewicz, Maryland's 2017 coach, four years isn't enough time to make the game feel like tradition.

"I think the longer you're in it, the more they come back and say, 'Hey, this isn't milk and cookies,'" Markiewicz said. "My challenge and the challenge of my coaching staff is to get them to understand how big it is before they get there."

Owings Mills' Michael Johnson, who led Maryland with 54 yards receiving in this year's game, said he would highly recommend the Big 33 experience. He didn't know much about the tradition until he got there.

"I felt it immediately," he said. "I felt like I was part of something that would last forever."

Johnson, a second-team All-Metro selection who played just about every position at Owings Mills last fall, jumped at the opportunity to play.

"I had a choice to go to Ocean City for senior week or play in the Big 33 game," he said. "I chose to play in the Big 33 game, because I like to experience new things as far as football. I felt as though it would get me ready for college. With the practices, I knew I would get to meet new people and build a bond with different teammates. When I go to West Virginia State University, I'll be building a bond with kids that I never experienced before."

Other players come home with the same feeling and some who will be eligible for next year's game already have inquired about trying out in January, so it appears the feeling of tradition may be starting to take hold.

"I think in our state we have some of the best coaching, we have some of the best players," Markiewicz said. "Now all we've got to do is get them to play. Then, we've got to get them to win and the rest will take care of itself."

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