Last night I watched the Big 33 Football Classic, one of the premier high school football all-star games in the area, and arguably, in the nation. The all-star game itself is started in 1957 and after playing against a Maryland All-Star team for most of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the match-up changed in 1993 and for nearly the past 20 years, the game has been played as the best 33 players from Pennsylvania verses the best 33 players from Ohio.
According to their site, (where you can find all the old scores, this years rosters and ‘Hot 100’ lists for the junior and sopohomore classes), 45 Big 33 Alum were playing in the NFL in 2011. This high school game pre-dates the NFL Super Bowl and one of the most interesting facts about the game is that a Super Bowl has never been played without at least 1 member of a Big 33 team on the field. You can find the year by year breakdown of the alumni that played in each Super Bowl on their site as well (right here to save you a second). A quick glance down that list revels a laundry list of great players and future Hall of Famers that all once played in the Big 33 All-Star game. Names such as Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett, Russ Grimm, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Frank Reich, Ricky Watters, Ty Law, Curtis Martin, Antonio Freeman, Ed McCaffery, Mike Munchak, Kerry Collins, Charles Woodson, Marvin Harrison and Ben Roethlisberger who served as this year’s honorary chairman, the first active NFL player/Big 33 alum to do so. That is quite a list to make it to the highest level from this one all-star game, and remember that is just some of the ones who played in a Super Bowl.
With that said, I took some notes during the game and put together some of my thoughts on what I saw with, at the very least, an intention on trying to follow the college, and hopefully professional careers of some of these kids.
Quick Game recap: Ohio came in with a 3 game winning streak, including an ugly 50-14 blowout last year. Pennsylvania come out hot this year scoring early in the game on a deep bomb from Skyler Mornhinweg to Villanova bound speedster Kevin Gulyas. At half PA looked strong and was up 14-0 and then 21-7 at the end of the third quarter. Then, on what as a combination of the Ohio offense looking a little bit fresher than the PA defense, which played lights out all game, and what felt like PA turnovers on 5 consecutive plays, Ohio tied of the game, sent it to overtime, and then sealed a win 24-21, Ohio’s 4th straight.
Bonehead play of the game: Rutgers bound Running back Desmon Peoples. The small back (listed at 5’8″ 180 lbs) spent most of the game as a return man. Early in the 4th quarter after a touchdown that made the score 21-14, Peoples did one of the dumbest I may have ever seen in the game of football on the ensuing kickoff (Desean Jackson goal line fumbles included). On the Kickoff the ball touched him but he didn’t catch it, I assume he planed to let it go into the endzone but I have no clue. Then he decided to pick it up and take a knee, but he was standing on the 3 yard line, which he realized wasn’t a smart place to kneel so he backed up into the endzone to take the touchback. At this point he then remembers that this would result in a saftey not the desired touchback, so now he tries to advance the ball. Sadly the entire coverage team within 10 yards of him in every direction and just by fighting to get himself back out of the endzone, he loses the ball, Ohio recovers and scores the game-tying touchdown.
Honorable Mention #1: Skylar Mornhinweg. The quarterback out of St. Joseph Prep whose name might sound familiar because his dad Marty, is the Offensive Coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, is committed to Florida and was one of the two quarterbacks on the Pennsylvania team. I thought Skylar threw a pretty ball, and displayed his ability on the opening drive touchdown pass to Gulyas. However as the game progressed it was clear Skyler was used to seeing less talented competition as he tried to force a few throws and got picked off 3 or 4 times. ( the one thing I haven’t been able to find is an official box score and didn’t record the stats as I watched.) I would have expected better out of a coaches son as he didn’t see/read a linebacker in the 4th quarter, throwing him an easy ball to jump in front of that kept Ohio in the game and then threw one way behind his receiver on their first play of overtime that was tipped and picked off to seal the victory for Ohio. (Side-note: Mornhinweg and Peoples started together for a while in high school before People’s transferred to a different school.) In Skylar’s defense though, he was playing kids he had just met and only spent the better part of a week with, so I’m sure his timing with his receivers wasn’t exactly great and like I said, he did throw a very nice ball. I think he will be a very good player as he grows and learns to read more complicated defenses, it was just hard to get a better read on him in this game while he split time at quarterback. ESPN lists him as the #6 prospect in PA this year.
Honorable Mention #2: 3 of the Starters in the Defensive Backfield on the Pennsylvania team are all headed to Temple together. These guys played a terrific team defense as I believe the Ohio team passed for less than 200 yards, even with 85 yards coming on a great catch and run by Ohio State bound WR/DB Najee Murry, who looks like a legit athlete. These three guys, Damiere Shaw, Mike Felton and Nate Smith are also going to be joined at Temple by PA DE Kiser Terry, and OL Kyle Friend and look to give Temple a strong local recruiting class. I specifically want to mention strong saftey Mike Felton as someone I personally know and as for me, the most local of all the players, good luck next year Mike. Nate Smith looked the best of these guys and is listed at 6’1″ 160 lbs. He could very potentially develop into a shutdown corner for the Owls.
#10 Adam Wallace, a 6’3″ 205 pound Linebacker who also played a sort of option or ‘wildcat’ quarterback for Ohio. He took snaps out of the shotgun, ran off tackle, bounced it outside, handed it off, ate up yards, then went back out on defense and mixed it up. He made me notice both because he was a linebacker playing quarterback but also because he productive at both spots. He is headed to Ashland next year, a memeber of the GLIAC, a conference that features Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley, Hillside, Wayne State and Tiffin. I feel like he will be a strong contributor to that program.
#9 Nyeem Wartman, a 6’3″ 230 pound Linebacker who made some huge hits for the Pennsylvania team. He carried the swagger of the defense in some of the hits he laid on the Ohio receivers and backs and should continue to do more of the same at Linebacker U, Penn State. Although it remains to be seen exactly what Penn State style will be now under Bill O’Brien but he certainly looks to be in that same mold of former greats Sean Lee and NaVarro Bowman.
#8 Treyvon Hester, a6’3″ 290 pound Defensive Tackle who was part of a excellent defensive line for Pennsylvania. For the majority of the game Ohio was unable to move the ball on the PA defense, scoring once on the long catch and run by Najee Murray and then later on a drive set up by an interception and once on a fumble recovery. Hester was a big part of this and looked like a strong solid player at the defensive tackle position. He heads to Toledo along with 1 other PA teammate and 4 members of the Ohio squad.
#7 Alonzo Shakim, a 6’5″ 205 pound Wide Receiver from the Pennsylvania team, Shakim appeared willing and able to use his size and length to shield away the defenders and go up for jump balls. While the game wasn’t exactly a passing clinic and opportunities were few for the receivers, I liked what I saw out of Shakim and think he will be a tremendous redzone threat in college. He is headed to Cincinnati next year on what should be a young and growing offense. If he plays well he could earn his playing time sooner rather than later.
#6 Jack Snowball, a 5’11 210 pound Running back/Receiver do-it-all type for the Ohio team. Snowball won the award for best name in the game but makes my list based on his versatility and hard work. Snowball lined up as a running back, h-back, flexed, flanked, split and in the slot. He took handoffs, end-arounds, blocked down field and caught passes. He wasn’t the best athlete or the biggest but he did what he was asked to do and was productive at it. With that much versatility you have to assume he has a lot of football knowledge at his young age and with his use he must also have the coach trust. He heads to Miami of Ohio next year where I am sure we will be productive over his years.
#5 Tyrique Jarrett, a 6’4″ 310 pound Defensive Tackle from Pennsylvania that the announcers referred to as a vending machine with legs. He paired with Hester for the strong interior line for the PA team and made a lot of plays in the run stuffing department. I can’t really judge him much better without re-watching the game and specifically watching him the whole time but I know what I saw from him was that he was in the backfield and around the ball a lot and heard his name repeatedly. He will be headed to Pitt this fall.
#4 Blake Rankin, a 6’4″ 210 pound Quarterback who rotated in with Mornhinweg on the Pennsylvania offense. While I was hard on Skylar for his poor game and interceptions, I admitted that he had only a week to learn the names of the other guys and to practice with them to get his timing down. Blake was no different and his passing numbers were not great by any means but he did earn player of the game for Pennsylvania (although that probably should have went to someone on defense). Where Blake most impressed me was his mobility. At first he looked very frantic to me and its possible he was nervous, but the kid was tremendous in the pocket, always avoiding the sack and buying extra time with his feet. To make it even more impressive, as a clearly talented and athletic high school player, he never looked to run as his first option, always keeping his eyes down field looking for his receivers. Like I said his biggest flaw was that frantic look, and a lot of his plays were designed rollouts and bootlegs, but it felt like he was running somewhere on every play so I’m sure he could work on staying in the pocket and just adjusting within it rather than running out of it. He heads to Rutgers this fall and I think with some good practice time he could definitely compete for a role there in the future.
#3 Tyler O’Connor, a 6’3″ 215 pound Quarterback who was the starter for the Ohio team. Tyler was the player of the game for the Ohio team and for good reason. While the overall passing numbers were not good, as I’ve already mentioned, he did complete the long pass for Ohio’s first score and also scored their second touchdown on a quarterback keeper. To me he showed the leadership and poise needed for a quarterback and looks to have a bright future ahead of him. Tyler didn’t show his athleticism the way Rankin did by scrambling around to buy time but he was much better at navigating within the pocket. He does have running ability that he showed off on the teams second score as he set up the touchdown was a big first down run and then put it in himself the next play. I think Tyler could become a very good college quarterback and Mark Dantonio will love having him at Michigan State this fall.
#2 Eugene Lewis, a 6’2″ 195 pound Wide Receiver with a ton of upside from Pennsylvania. While he had very few chances to show his abilities in the game, Lewis’ talent was easy to spot. ESPN ranks him as the #6 recruit in Pennsylvania and the top wide receiver as well as the #1 ranked player in the entire Penn State recruiting class. I’m trying not to use those rankings as I write this but the talent was easy to see even though the production was not all there in this game. I think Bill O’Brien is getting a good one here and Lewis could be a strong contributor early on and should develop into a star wide receiver before long. This is a guy who will make me want to watch Penn State football this year.
#1 Rushel Shell, a 5’11” 215 pound Running Back with eye popping high school numbers who played for the Pennsylvania side. Rushel rushed for over 9000 yards in high school. 9078 career rushing yards…that is insane. Shell had 39 straight games with 100 plus yards, a national record and rushed for over 200 yards 25 times. 3 2000 yard seasons that included a 2700 yard season as a sophomore made Shell the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania history and one of the top all time in the nation. MaxPreps has him listed as the 11th overall prospect in the Nation, and as the 3rd best running back while ESPN has him as the #2 player in PA (behind Bishop McDevitt’s Noah Spence who I wish I would have gotten to see play in this game, not sure why he didn’t). Shell did not play all the much in the game, whether his college coaches wanted him limited to prevent injury to their prize recruit or if the coaches in the game just wanted to the other running back more involved but while he was in he completely looked the part of a stud running back. He has tremendous patience and a good burst once he gets the hole he is looking for and is strong enough that arm tackles don’t alter his plans. He heads to Pitt this fall to follow in the shoes of some great running backs like Lesean McCoy, Dion Lewis (both now Philadelphia Eagles) and current star Ray Graham. He certainly appears to be the next great Pitt running back but with Graham still there we may have to wait through a redshirt year until be see Shell on the field running past defenders.
These were just some of the guys that happened to stand out to me while I watched the game and there was certainly plenty of other talent in the game that I didn’t mention. The PA kicker isn’t even a football guy as he is going to Messiah to play soccer and local lineback and tackling machine Bryton Barr heads to Towson as their prized recruit. Ohio guys like Warren Ball, Devin Bogard and Najee Murray who are all headed to Ohio State and Andre Jones and E.J. Junior who are both going to Cincinnati all displayed the obvious athleticism and football ability needed for the next level and all just missed making my list but get recognition here.