For the first time in more than two decades, a group of the top high school football players from Maryland will match up with a team of Pennsylvania’s best in the long-running Big 33 Football Classic. The Maryland Football Coaches Association (MFCA) has signed a five-year agreement to play in the 57th-annual all-star game, starting with next year’s game, set for June 15, 2013, in Hershey, Pa.

MFCA President Joe Russo said the team of 33 position players and one kicker will be picked in February following a yet-to-be scheduled combine. The pool of approximately 100 players at the combine will be determined after soliciting nominations throughout the state.

In recent seasons, the Maryland Crab Bowl and the Chesapeake Bowl have been the two most prominent high school all-star games that involve Maryland players, though neither is affiliated with the MFCA. NCAA rules prohibit players planning to compete in college from participating in more than two postseason all-star games.

The Maryland Crab Bowl – which pits a team of Washington-area players against a team of Baltimore-area players – will be held for the fifth time on Dec. 21 at Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex . The Chesapeake Bowl – set for December 29, 2012 at the same venue — is in its third season with a South team of players from Maryland, Virginia, the District and West Virginia competing against a North squad from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Russo, the athletic director at Hammond, said a committee within the MFCA should finalize a seven-person coaching staff for this year’s Big 33 Classic by the end of the year.

Maryland all-stars competed in the Big 33 game eight times from 1985-1992 and posted a 2-6 record before being replaced by Ohio for the past 21 years.

In part because of its timing just months before many players begin their college careers, the Big 33 Classic has struggled to draw the top talent eligible to compete, but according to the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation, every Super Bowl has included at least one Big 33 alumnus.

“It was always a neat experience,” said Russo, who coached football at the Howard County school from 1977 to 2000. “Pennsylvania was the king of football, we thought, so it was a great opportunity to showcase our players and show how good the football was in our state. . . . We’re anxious now to be back because we think we’re pretty good.”

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