Andre Martin remembers watching the Big 33 Football Classic last summer on television, and wondering if he would earn a chance to play in such a high-profile game.
After playing a critical role as a defensive back/running back during Wilde Lake's drive to its third state high school championship last fall, Martin got his wish.
Tonight at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa., Martin and three other Wilde Lake stars -- linebacker Brent Guyton, offensive lineman James Easterly and quarterback Phil White -- will represent the state in the final game between the top 33 graduating seniors from Maryland and Pennsylvania. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania, which leads the series, 5-2, has signed a three-year contract to play Ohio in the Big 33 game. Maryland, coming off a 17-9 victory last year, is close to reaching a similar agreement with Virginia.
"I want to be part of history, especially now, since this is Maryland's last time here. Our motto is 'One Last Time,' " said Martin, who will play at defensive back tonight and is headed to the University of Maryland. "It hasn't really kicked in for me yet. It probably won't kick in un
til I'm in front of 20,000 people Saturday night."
Besides being a player showcase, the game's rules are designed to encourage scoring. Offenses have to pass at least 40 percent of the time. Defenses must line up in standard, 5-2 alignments. At least one defensive end must rush the quarterback, while no stunts or blitzes are allowed. Defensive backs must cover receivers man-for-man. Zone coverage is prohibited.
"There are not a lot of adjustments you can make on defense. The rules limit you," said Jerry Franks, the head coach for Maryland. "Defensive backs are pretty much on an island."
Franks, the coach at Northern of Calvert County, was an assistant on the Maryland Big 33 team two years ago. With only a week of practice to prepare, has found it challenging to implement his offense with so many new players learning new schemes and formations.
"You come in with a plan, but you get up here and you find people with different abilities," Franks said. "You try to find out limitations every player has during the first few days. We're still moving people around."
The defense will be led by Wilde Lake linebacker Brent Guyton, The Sun's All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year. He will attend UCLA.
"The passing game is of primary importance, because it takes longer to develop your running game," he said. "All of it will be worked out by game day."
Franks was still deciding on numerous starting positions on Thursday. He has been most impressed with Maryland's hitting ability and speed. He also likes the talent he has seen at the skill positions.
Quarterback duty probably will be split between Robert St. Pierre (one of four DeMatha players) and White, who thought his chances ofmaking the team were "slim and none" until he put on an impressive workout before coaches at the Big 33 tryout last spring.
White will have plenty of targets. Jermaine Lewis (Eleanor Roosevelt), a nationally ranked sprinter who has signed to play ,, football at Maryland, heads the list of receivers, followed by Damon Atwater (McNamara), Ray Gray (Quince Orchard), Marion Evans (Thomas Wootten) and Demont Blackmon (Aberdeen). Fullback Troy Turner (Seneca Valley) and tailbacks Richard Snowden (Frederick) and Rhad Miles (High Point) will share backfield duty.
Big 33 Classic
What: An annual football game between the top 33 graduating high school seniors from Maryland and those from Pennsylvania.
When: Tonight, 7. Gates open, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, Pa.
Directions: I-83 north to Harrisburg, Pa., take route 322 east (Hershey). follow to route 39 west to Hersheypark.
Tickets: $8 reserved seating, $5 general admission.