Given the new rule changes for the Big 33 Football Classic mandate both teams to pass the ball at least 1/3 of the time, Ohio head coach Bill Albright is happy two of his team’s most promising players reside on the defensive side of the ball.
Cornerback Najee Murray and linebacker De’Van Bogard – Ohio State-bound defensive players that will serve as two of the Ohio team’s five captains – have shown prowess in pass coverage during the week-long practice sessions leading into the game.
Two other future Buckeyes, wide receiver Frank Epitropolous and running back Warren Ball, will represent the Ohio team at Hersheypark Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday with similar hopes to lead the team to its fourth consecutive victory in the 55th annual edition of the rivalry. Epitropolous, however, pulled his hamstring during practice and will not be available to participate in the game.
“Our goal is to keep our string alive,” Albright told BSB. “We have won the last three, but Pennsylvania, they’re geared up. They want to stop that streak and it is going to be tough. It is going to be a hard-fought football game.”
Ohio won last year’s game by the score of 50-18, but it wasn’t long ago when Pennsylvania was in the opposition situation. From 2006-08, Pennsylvania won all three contests and seemed to be trending upward in the rivalry.
Backed by the four future Buckeyes – and four other Big Ten-bound prospects – Ohio hopes to continue its dominance in the rivalry. Albright noted the team has come together quite quickly in just a short amount of time.
“The players that we have are tremendous,” he said. “They’ve given us everything that we’ve wanted. Practice has gone really good and we’ve kept it short and sweet. You’re coaching All-Stars, so there isn’t a whole lot you have to do as far technique with them, but we have them in the right places and we’re excited to see what they can do.”
Despite the fact that every player on both rosters were perhaps the best players on their respective teams, Albright said it is a challenge to form things together in a week in preparation for a football game.
The team, however, has come together quite quickly after some troubles hindered Ohio’s travel plans to Pennsylvania.
“Everything came together on Sunday on our trip down there,” Albright said. “We had bus troubles and a six-hour trip turned into an 11-hour trip. The kids bonded really well together, we got to see their psyche and their attitude and they were absolutely tremendous during the week. It has been great. These kids have bonded together and everybody is all a part of the same group. It has been fantastic with how well they’ve gotten along and everything.”
Along with the four Ohio State players, there are nine other players headed to BCS schools in Jermaine Edmondson and Tyler O’Conner (both Michigan State), Terrell Jackson (Pittsburgh), Andrew Jones and E.J. Junior (both Cincinnati), Nana Kyeremeh and Tony Matteo (both West Virginia), Mason Monheim and Joe Spencer (both Illinois).
Albright has been impressed with what he’s seen out of all of his players, but acknowledged the Ohio State-bound crew could be a special bunch as their approach their collegiate careers.
The future Buckeyes will travel to Columbus on Sunday – the day after the game – to enroll at Ohio State and begin their trek toward Big Ten football. Before that, though, Albright hopes for final standout performances from the players as high schoolers.
“Unfortunately we lost Frank Epitropolous, he pulled a hamstring a couple of days ago, but Warren Ball at running back, is outstanding,” Albright said. “Ohio State is getting some great athletes and we aren’t only looking forward to seeing them play Saturday, but we look forward to seeing them play on Saturdays for the next couple of years at Ohio State.”
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