By Matt Popchock
North Allegheny offensive lineman Vince Czerniewski played an integral role in the Tigers’ march to the PIAA Class AAAA championship last fall, blocking for tailback Alex Papson and a committee of backups.
It must seem like just yesterday the senior and Duquesne recruit donned his state gold medal after N.A. beat LaSalle in Hershey, so we can only imagine his excitement that he gets to go back there six months to the day…and once again, he’ll be playing alongside some of the top talent in the Commonwealth.
Czerniewski is one of 14 WPIAL representatives on this year’s Pennsylvania roster for the 54th annual Big 33 Football Classic at Hersheypark Stadium. On Saturday night 33 PA all-stars–technically, 34–take on 34 of the best players from Ohio.
Kickoff is set for 7:00, and the game can be seen live on PCN.
Pennsylvania leads the all-time series, though it stands even at 9-9 since Pennsylvania and Ohio started playing each other on a permanent basis. Last year Ohio squeaked out an 18-15 victory, its second Big 33 win in a row and fifth in the last eight years. Four of those games, including the 2010 contest, were decided by less than ten points.
You might say the Big 33 is the Super Bowl of high school football when you consider that every one of the first 45 Super Bowls has featured at least one Big 33 participant. Such future NFL stars as Tony Dorsett, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Curtis Martin, and Ben Roethlisberger have played in it.
Furthermore, seven Big 33 alumni were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, including Pitt standouts Jonathan Baldwin (Aliquippa), the talented receiver who went to the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round, and Jason Pinkston (Baldwin), the offensive lineman who was chosen by the Cleveland Browns in round five.
That’s why Mr. High School Sports is pumped to head over to Chocolate Town, U.S.A., and check out some of the top gridiron graduates from the Keystone and Buckeye States, many of whom we’ll all be watching on Saturdays, if not Sundays, one day soon.
Here are some notes on the 2011 Pennsylvania Big 33 roster:
*Czerniewski, who posted 54 tackles (31 solo) and eight sacks while playing defense last fall, will have company. Playing on the other side of the trenches will be teammate and defensive tackle Justin Haser. The Ohio University recruit registered 62 tackles (42 solo) and 9.5 sacks for the Tigers as a senior. Haser is one of the top-ranked recruits at his position in all of Pennsylvania by MaxPreps.com.
*Woodland Hills, which North Allegheny defeated for the WPIAL title, is also well represented this year, with four Wolverines making the cut. One of them is tailback Lafayette Pitts, who ultimately maintained his commitment to Pitt despite Dave Wannstedt’s departure. One of MaxPreps’ top PA tailbacks, he finished eighth in Class AAAA during the regular season with 1,029 rushing yards and sixth in the classification with 17 TD’s. Woodland Hills linemen Quinton Jefferson and Julian Turner were selected as well, along with inside linebacker Ejuan Price. Price, one of the most highly touted defenders in the state, will be coming into an interesting situation, to say the least, at Ohio State, after an excellent high school career.
*Mount Lebanon’s Tim Cwalina and Gateway wide receiver Armstead Williams round out the list of nine WPIAL Class AAAA selections to PA’s Big 33 roster. Cwalina, one of the most respected offensive linemen in the district this past season, will play for the University of Virginia this fall, while Williams, one of the more sought-after local players in the nation, got a scholarship to Purdue despite an ACL injury that prematurely wrecked his senior season. But let’s not forget about McKeesport’s Delvon Simmons, a four-star UNC recruit who was rated the No. 8 defensive tackle in America by CBS Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming.
*One of the first local recruits of the Todd Graham era will be in uniform for the Pennsylvania team. Devin Cook of Beaver Falls, who will play inside linebacker for Pitt starting this fall, led the Midwestern Conference with 71 tackles (56 solo) from said position in 2010. Cook started on a Tigers squad that went to the WPIAL Semifinals. Another player from the MAC, Riverside tailback and Akron recruit Nick Rossi, will join him.
*Clairton, another of last year’s PIAA champs, is sending a pair back to Hershey, just like N.A. Desimon Green, one of the most lethal players on both sides of the ball in the WPIAL, and Joshua Page will suit up for Pennsylvania. With Pitt-turned-Texas Tech recruit Green at defensive end, and Page, a St. Francis recruit, at defensive back, the Bears allowed just 64 points and notched ten shutouts, including another WPIAL title win over Rochester.
*Two of the teams who opposed District 7 schools in the PIAA Football Championships have players on the team. Defensive back and Villanova recruit Jamal Abdur-Rahman represents LaSalle, which lost to North Allegheny, while fellow DB Brandon Holloman (undecided) represents West Catholic, which handed South Fayette its only loss of the season in the Class AA Final.
*All four WPIAL classifications will be represented Saturday, with Thomas Jefferson kicker/punter Mike Wainauskas being the only participant from a WPIAL Class AAA school. He’ll be playing at Slippery Rock this fall after scoring 66 points for TJ last season and averaging over 33 yards per punt.
*Technically, there are 15 WPIAL representatives, if you count Ellwood City coach Don Phillips. Last year he guided the Wolverines to a 6-3 regular season record, good enough for a fourth-place finish in the Midwestern Conference. That ended a decade-long playoff drought for the program.
Click here for Pennsylvania’s full Big 33 roster, and be sure to visit Big33.org for ticket information.
Be sure to check back with us this weekend when Mr. High School Sports blogs live from the Big 33 Football Classic!