East Xtra: Franklin Regional's Jonov excited for Big 33

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If "jack-of-all-trades" was a football position, Franklin Regional's Colin Jonov would play it.

This past season, Jonov, who graduated last Friday, did just about everything for the Panthers football squad except paint the yard lines. He led the Panthers with 10 receiving touchdowns as a wide receiver while totaling a team-high six interceptions as a defensive back. He also returned punts and kickoffs.

But playing football was just the tip of the iceberg. He was also a three-year letterman in basketball and baseball.

Maybe jack-of-all-sports would be a better description for Jonov.

But, in the fall, Jonov will focus on one sport as he begins his collegiate football career at Bucknell University, a Division I-AA school in Lewisburg. And for the first time, he will have to specialize on one position -- starting this weekend.

Jonov was selected to be on the Pennsylvania roster for the 2014 Big 33 Football Classic as one of the highest performing seniors in the state. The squad started practice Monday and will face all-stars from Maryland Saturday in the prestigious high school senior all-star game in Hershey.

But even the official roster can't keep Jonov's positions straight.

The roster lists Jonov, a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder, as a wide receiver, although he will be lining up as a cornerback during Saturday's game.

"I'm going to miss playing receiver a lot," he said. "It's definitely going to be a change. Something I have to get used to, going from playing every position in football, as well as basketball and baseball. It's going to be weird playing one position in football and practicing for it all year [at Bucknell]."

He is excited for the opportunity, however, not only to represent Pennsylvania, but also improve his game against elite competition. Playing in the WPIAL, Jonov rarely competed against teams and players from eastern Pennsylvania, but the Big 33 has enabled him to do so.

"It's different competing against east guys," he said. "The speed of the game [is different]. Everyone is as fast as everyone else, so technique matters more.

"It's the most competitive football I've been a part of."

Some players, fearing injury before the start of their college careers, choose not to compete in the game. But Jonov sees the game as beneficial.

"This is great preparation for [college]. It gives me a lot of confidence heading into camp," he said.

The Big 33 has a storied history and since 1957, the game has featured Pennsylvania all-stars playing against other states, such as Maryland, Ohio or Texas, against the nation's all-stars or -- during a few periods -- as an intrastate East-West game.

One claim to fame that this all-star game can make is that there has never been a Super Bowl played without at least one Big 33 "alumnus" on one of the team's roster. Some of those NFL greats who played in the Big 33 game include Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Tony Dorsett and Ben Roethlisberger. It's no wonder that Jonov feels honored to have made the team.

"You have to realize that there are 501 schools [in the state] and 'X' amount of seniors and picking the best athletes in the state is an arduous process. To be selected for this is quite an honor," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.

Botta has also been selected as an assistant coach for the Pennsylvania team this year.

Getting a group of 33 players and a kicker from across the entire state on the same page in just five days is no easy task.

"You have to bring 34 kids from different programs with different ideas and ways of doing things," Botta said. "So we have to work at it."

Pennsylvania's Big 33 team had no problem getting on the same page last year. That team dismantled their Maryland competition, 58-27, and Botta knows that they haven't forgotten.

"Maryland is coming back with a vengeance after what happened last year," he said.

Another win for Jonov and Pennsylvania would only add to what has been a superb year for the do-it-all senior.

After losing in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals in 2012, Franklin Regional only returned five starters -- with Jonov filling two of those spots on offense and defense -- in 2013.

Prior to the season, Botta called the 2013 campaign "a rebuilding year." That proved to be an incorrect forecast, however, and Jonov made first-team All-Greater Allegheny Conference, as well as the Post-Gazette's East Fabulous 22 team after leading the Panthers to a 9-2 record and making the AAA semifinals.

Although Jonov said he was surprised when his coach informed him that he made the Big 33 roster, Botta knew it was a logical selection.

"What he has is great speed and the tenacity about him on both sides of the ball to be a great competitor," Botta said.

Jonov will only be able to showcase his defensive skills from now on and the Big 33 will be an appropriate conclusion to his high school career and a starting point for his new, specialized path.

"He's reached his pinnacle by playing in the Big 33. He had a tremendous career and I'm very, very proud," Botta said.

The annual game, which also features two other players from East Xtra schools, McKeesport's Jawan Hill and Central Catholic's Niko Thorpe, will take place at 7:06 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

Hayes Gardner: hgardner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @HayesGardner.

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