Some of Maryland’s most talented senior high school football players, all bound to play college football next fall, gathered Sunday morning at the Baltimore Ravens Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills with a single goal - to gain a spot on Team Maryland and an opportunity to compete in the Big 33 Classic in June.
With Maryland entering the fourth year of its return to participation in the Big 33, a tradition rich summer football all-star game matching the elite college-bound high school talent in Maryland against their counterparts from Pennsylvania, the enthusiasm of Maryland’s top players for the Big 33 is growing.
With five roster spots already filled by advanced invitations, more than 130 players turned out on Super Bowl Sunday to battle for the remaining 29 spots on the team.
Each player was nominated to participate in the process by coaches and talent evaluators from across the state. That group of players was compiled by River Hill head coach Brian Van Dusen who serves as the head of the game’s selection committee. Once the list was further vetted, tryout invitations were issued to many of the players.
Some top players from both Maryland and Pennsylvania cannot play in the contest because of early reporting dates for their colleges, but Maryland has already announced that five of the state’s most elite talents will be in Hersey in June to compete for Team Maryland.
University of Maryland recruit Jake Funk of Damascus, who led the Swarming’ Hornets to a 3A state crown in 2015 while smashing scoring records by the handfuls is one of the early commits to the roster. In addition, John Daka of 4A state champion Henry Wise, a James Madison University recruit, is also on board. Wise is a big-time hitter from the linebacker position.
Another Maryland recruit, 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive tackle Brian Plummer of South Carroll, will be the centerpiece of Team Maryland’s offensive line. Finally, wideout Steven Smothers (West Virginia University), who won two 3A state titles with Franklin will compete for Team Maryland. Karem Felder, also from Franklin, originally accepted an invitation to play for Team Maryland, but was forced to pull out because of a June 12th reporting date at Ohio State University, where he will play his college ball.
“The kids here today have college scholarships and are here to vie for one of the 34 spots on the team,” said Maryland Team Director Scott Ripley at Sunday’s tryout. “Today is a day they come out and showcase their talents to the coaching staff.”
One of those trying out on Sunday was Mount St. Joseph defensive back Manny Patterson, a University of Main recruit. He said he was inspired to tryout after watching some of his friends play in previous contests.
“I remember when I was watching Mike Jones from Milford play in the game. Another friend, Reggie White, Jr. played in the game and I watched them on TV,” said Patterson. “I wanted to play in that. They went to big schools and now my turn has come up to play in the game, play against Pennsylvania and have a good game.”
Patterson also explained that the Big 33 offers one more taste of the high school experience.
“My last high school game, sadly, ended in a loss, but I played in the Crab Bowl and we came out with a win. Hopefully, I can play in this one and come out with a win. I really don’t want this high school career to end yet. I’m loving it so far and hoping I can keep going, but I’m also ready for the college career.”
Another player trying to make his mark is McDonogh kicker Mike Shinsky, an All-State, All-MIAA and All-Metro performer.
“It’s just great. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point and it’s a honor to be here. I’ve heard a lot about the game and the players coming out. Brandon McManus from the Broncos is in the Super Bowl. He played on the Pennsylvania team, so I am just very excited.”
Shinsky also noted that the players not only want to compete against Pennsylvania, they want to establish Team Maryland as a force that can win on a consistent basis.
“People really don’t think of Maryland as a big football state, and I think its great to get ourselves out there and compete because there are a lot of great guys in Maryland.”
For those lucky enough to make the squad, the future is bright. All 50 Super Bowls, including Sunday’s game, have included at least one Big 33 alum. In addition, as Big 33 Executive Director Dave Trimbur announced at Sunday’s tryout, two Big 33 alums, offensive tackle Orland Pace and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Trimbur is also impressed with how the game is being embraced in Maryland.
“We’re really excited about going into the fourth year. We see the participation and talent picking down in Maryland,” said Trimbur. “They are really starting to get supportive of it with the kids. The coaches associations are doing a great job with us. The game continues to grow with this new relationship.
The participation of Maryland is also paying dividends for the Big 33. Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting will televise the contest nationally on the Big 33 digital network for a second consecutive year and apparel giant Under Armour has just reached an agreement to outfit both teams, as well as everyone else associated with game day.
Once the Team Maryland roster is announced later this week, the team will begin weekly practices in May. They will then travel to Hersey the week prior to the June 18th contest and stay with host families, while they continue to practice and participate in many activities, similar to a college bowl week, before going to battle with Team Pennsylvania in Hersey Stadium.