The Big 33 Football Classic this year is about renewing old acquaintances. Pennsylvania takes on Maryland in the renewal of a series that lasted from 1985-92.
But for Pennsylvania coach Art Walker and quarterback Mack Leftwich, this annual all-star game is about one last chance to work together before saying goodbye.
Walker is the coach at North Allegheny and Leftwich was his star quarterback the past two seasons. Leftwich worked magic with Walker's offense, throwing for 5,554 yards in two seasons, including more than 3,000 in 2012. He also ran for more than 1,400 career yards, won two WPIAL titles and one PIAA title.
Now Leftwich is one of Pennsylvania's quarterbacks for the Big 33 Saturday night at Hersheypark. The game will televised live by the NFL Network.
"It's great to be here with him one more time and coach him one more time because we had a great relationship, and I think he deserves to be in this game," Walker said.
Walker is using some of North Allegheny's offense. But Pennsylvania also has Erie Cathedral Prep quarterback Damion Terry, a Michigan State recruit.
"It helps to have Mack, but we can't just do what is easiest and best for Mack and I," Walker said. "We're taking so many kids from different programs and we have to make things easy for everybody."
Despite putting up huge statistics, Leftwich wasn't recruited by Division I-A schools, though, and made a verbal commitment to Stephen F. Austin, an NCAA Division I-AA school in Texas. The knock against Leftwich was he was too small (5 feet 10) to play at a Division I-A school.
But when Sean Kugler was named head coach of Texas-El Paso, he recruited Leftwich. Kugler's son, Pat, played with Leftwich at North Allegheny. Leftwich ended up accepting a scholarship to UTEP, a Division I-A school.
"I think he still has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder because a lot of [Mid-American Conference] schools passed on him and maybe some I-AA schools like Delaware and Villanova were worried about his height," Walker said. "I think he will always have that edge about him and love to prove people wrong."
Leftwich is one of nine WPIAL players on the Pennsylvania roster. Clairton's Tyler Boyd, another WPIAL player, also has been very impressive in practices, according to Walker. Boyd is a highly-touted Pitt recruit who is playing receiver. He played in Class A, the smallest classification in Pennsylvania.
"Tyler Boyd is definitely the real deal," Walker said. "It doesn't matter if he's from Class A or AA. He's smooth, he's a good athlete, he's a worker and he's coachable. There's no superstar attitude from him and it doesn't matter that he's going against future Division I cornerbacks from [Class AAAA] high schools. He's as good as them. He has already proven himself to be a very good player. Pitt is getting a good one there."