In an era marked by competition among national high school all-star football games to land the top talent, sponsors and television deals, the Big 33 Football Classic is, in some ways, a throwback to a simpler time. With a history that dwarfs the recent startups, the event’s organizers remain committed and top players continue to show up in Central Pennsylvania for a week each year, in spite of the challenges of holding it in the summer.
Maryland is in the game for the first time since 1992. It will field a roster of 33 position players and a kicker; 21 have local ties, including Dorsey, who will join a distinguished list of all-time participants that includes Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino.
All 47 Super Bowls have included at least one alumnus of the game, long a showcase for the next crop of college-bound players coming from talent-rich Pennsylvania.
Maryland steps in as the challenger this year, replacing Ohio to kick off a five-year contract in a nationally televised event with a mission that stretches beyond the field.
“Those [national] games those kids fly in for three days of practice and are right out on the field,” said Dave Trimbur, the executive director of the Big 33 scholarship foundation. “They have tryouts starting when they’re freshmen. Our game is about the experience as well as the football.”
Back in the game
Jacquille Veii, a recent graduate of the Avalon School in Rockville, arrived here Sunday unsure exactly what to expect.
For the University of Maryland-bound cornerback, state pride and the chance for an early taste of college competition were the game’s main selling points.
When Maryland agreed to join the game in October, high school coaches around the area did their best to explain the game’s importance. Before tryouts in February, they passed around the link to a television feature via e-mail in an effort to drum up interest.
“We’ve got to condition these kids’ minds on how big it is,” said Reggie White, a former NFL defensive lineman from Baltimore who played in the 1988 game and is an assistant this week. “It’s been gone for 20 years, so these guys don’t know about it. . . . This was the game.”
The game once served as a tuneup for fall camp, played in late July until 2006 when a change in NCAA rules allowed incoming freshmen to begin attending classes via scholarship earlier in the summer.
Because the game takes place after graduation, it does not count against the two all-star game limit imposed by the NCAA on high school seniors, and does not need to directly compete with the Under Armour All-America game and others for talent.