The search to fill out Maryland’s first Big 33 Football Classic team in more than two decades takes another step forward on Saturday afternoon with a tryout combine at the Baltimore Ravens practice facility in Owings Mills.
In October, the Maryland Football Coaches Association (MFCA) announced an agreement to field a team of the state’s top players opposite some of Pennsylvania’s best in the annual all-star game, beginning with this year’s 57th edition on June 15 in Hershey, Pa.
Pennsylvania, which had played a team from Ohio for the past 20 years, announced its roster of 33 position players and a place kicker last month, and the Maryland squad, led by Gilman Coach Biff Poggi, will begin to take shape after this weekend.
MFCA President Joe Russo said his organization invited 139 players to the combine after taking nominations from around the state. The list of nominees features all nine senior All-Mets from Maryland, including All-Met Offensive Player of the Year Kendall Fuller of Good Counsel. (Full list here)
Russo said he’s expecting about 100 players to show up, though interested participants were not required to RSVP and attendance is not mandatory to make the cut. By NCAA rule, players are limited to participating in two all-star games following their senior season.
On Saturday, a specially appointed committee of coaches will put the players through non-contact position drills, while the members of this year’s coaching staff evaluate the action. Russo said Poggi and his assistants — who include Quince Orchard’s Dave Mencarini, Spalding’s Kyle Schmitt and Wise’s DaLawn Parrish — will then use those notes and the players’ highlight tapes to assemble the roster, which will be announced within the next month.
Schmitt, who accepted the Spalding job this week after four years at Atholton, played in the game as a member of the Pennsylvania team in 2000. He said both of his former players who were invited, quarterback Luke Casey (Rhode Island) and wide receiver Keyon Pinnock (Stony Brook), will attend the combine.
“We’ve tried to push it,” Schmitt said. “I know the coaches have talked to other coaches about getting their kids to come out, and I think we’ll get a good turnout [on Saturday]. . . . [Playing in the game is] an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
The game, which Maryland participated in from 1985-1992, has a celebrated history as each of the 47 Super Bowls has included at least one former Big 33 participant. That tradition continued this year with San Francisco’s Ted Ginn, Jr. (Ohio, 2004) and Baltimore’s Gino Gradkowski (Pennsylvania, 2007) seeing action in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the 49ers on Feb. 3.
“We kind of knew that the first couple years are going to be tough until the kids know it,” said Russo, the athletic director at Hammond. “Most of these kids have never heard of it.. . . They don’t understand what kind of game this is yet, but I’d say overall people are excited about it, so we’re really excited about that.”