HERSHEY, Pa. -- Hold it! There must be some mistake here.
Ever since their football series started in 1985, Pennsylvania has sent out a Big 33 team to play Maryland. And Maryland has responded with, well, a medium 33 team each year. Until now, that is.
Eleven, count 'em, players on Maryland's 34-man roster (there must be an allowance for inflation, or kickers) are listed at 250 pounds or more. A look around the locker room in Hershey indicates that nobody had to fudge the weights.
"For the first time, we've got some beef, too," said Maryland's head coach, Doug Duvall of Wilde Lake.
"This is our biggest team yet," said administrative assistant Al Thomas of Damascus, who coached the team two years ago. "We've had big kids in the past, but this group is athletic."
A glance at the roster, in fact, shows more Division I scholarship ++ players than any Maryland team in memory. "I think it's the best group of high school kids ever assembled out of the state of Maryland, having seen the last seven," Duvall said.
"Our second team is just as good as our first team," said Randallstown's Larry Washington. Washington will rotate with Wilde Lake's Raphael Wall, a future teammate at University of Maryland, at running back in Maryland's one-back set, run-and-shoot offense on Saturday night at 7 (Channel 11) at Hersheypark Stadium.
With such heavily recruited runners, Maryland might be expected to try to pound the ball up and down the field. But Duvall and his staff set a very different game plan months ago.
"It's the rules of the game and the personnel available," he said. "You have to throw 40 percent of the time. The defense has to play 5-2, man-to-man, with no stunting or switching on coverage. We're trying to get a horizontal and vertical stretch to open the game up."
In the run-and-shoot quarterbacked by Matt Byrne of Damascus, chosen offensive captain by the players, Wall and Washington will be used mostly on draws, traps and counter plays. The stretching will be done by a six-man rotation of wide receivers (there are no tight ends on the squad) including Gilman's Keith Kormanik.
Kormanik expressed surprise at how organized the Maryland coaches have been, but Duvall and his staff began preparing for this game soon after the 1990 season ended.
"We were able to see a lot of film," Duvall said. "People were real truthful about their talent, and the level of talent in the state has gone up in the last few years."
The coaches have been impressed by Gilman linebacker Jamal Cox, and the players have been, too, electing him defensive captain.
Selecting talent is one thing, but getting a group of relative strangers to play as a team is another. That, too, seems to be working for Maryland this year.
"It took a little while, because everyone was going out for a position," Forest Park guard Josh Austin said after just three practices. "Now, there's no jealousy. We're all jelled as one."
That's what coaches love to hear. "It's a real positive feeling," Duvall said. "Almost like a magic thing. There's not one kid who has an ego thing or thinks he's a superstar."
So, with all their size, speed and good vibes, do the Maryland players dwell on shortening Pennsylvania's 6-1 advantage in this series?
"All the time," said Ricky Rowe,the Wilde Lake safety headed for Penn State. "That's what we're trying to accomplish. We feel like the talent is here."