By Don Seeley
HERSHEY — It didn’t take long for Andrew Scanlan to feel like he fit in, to feel like he belonged on the Pennsylvania team that will line up against Ohio in this evening’s Big 33 Football Classic here at Hersheypark Stadium.
That esprit de corps, not to mention a three-game losing streak in the series, has been more than enough to drive Scanlan and his teammates through three practice sessions on Monday, two-a-days on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and one more on Friday … enough to fuel the competitive fires for tonight’s showdown.
“The whole week has been a lot of fun, a lot of fun with hard work,” the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Scanlan explained. “There have been a lot of laughs, too. But in between those 5-10 seconds from the snap of the ball until the last whistle, believe me, it’s been all business.
“We want to get rid of that three-game skid. It’s all we’ve been talking about. The coaches have told us they want to start a new era. They don’t talk a lot about the past, but we know they want to get this (losing streak) over with, too.”
The Northwestern University-bound Scanlan has been working at a corner and as a safety, sharing time with five others in the secondary — South Western’s Michael Felton, Cardinal O’Hara’s Damiere Shaw and Archbishop Wood’s Desmon Peoples, all Temple recruits, as well as Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s Anthony Nixon (Maryland) and Bishop McDevitt’s Miles Williams (Bloomsburg).
Their defensive scheme is simple enough — man to man … every single play.
No one has drawn any easy assignments for practice or for tonight’s game, either. Among the Pennsylvania receivers challenging Scanlan and the rest of the secondary are Allentown Central Catholic’s Kevin Gulyas (Villanova), Woodland Hill’s Shakim Alonzo (Cincinnati) and Penn Hills’ Corey Jones (Toledo), all of whom have size, speed and strength. Ohio has its share of highly touted receivers, too, including Nana Kyeremeh (West Virginia), Frank Epitropoulos (Ohio State) and Quincy Jones (Eastern Michigan), all of whom have that size, speed and strength, too.
“We play man-to-man defense the entire game, and that’s a challenge because you have to throw (the ball) 60 percent of the time,” Scanlan explained. “That means we’ll all be moving around a lot, and we’re going to have to stick with some excellent receivers.
“But I think our receivers are better than (Ohio’s) receivers, too. We’ve had a great time challenging each other, and we’re getting better as a result of it. The focus is unbelievable, and the competition is at a max. That’s what a week’s work of practices is all about.”
And what has helped take Scanlan and his teammates to another level.
“I’ve definitely played against some great talent throughout the (Pioneer Athletic Conference) and when we played Coatesville (in the District 1-AAAA playoffs),” Scanlan added. “But you may have only seen three players from Pottsgrove or two players from Methacton, for instance, who had exceptional talent.
“Here, in the Big 33 game, there are 11 players on the field who have exceptional talent. So you have to be ready every play, be aware of everyone every single moment.”
“Andrew is a very smart young man, but like a lot of the (players in the Big 33 game) they haven’t been challenged in their high school careers like they’ve been challenged this week,” said Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker. “Everyone has been telling them how good they’ve been all their life, but now they have a chance to see where the rubber meets the road.”
The Pennsylvania talent alone has given Scanlan invaluable insight into just how competitive tonight’s game will be … and what is expected of him.
“I know some people may have thought I was one of those exceptional athletes back at (Spring-Ford), but here I’m just an ordinary athlete,” he said. “I’m trying to rise above that here, trying to be another exceptional athlete here, trying to be the best I can be here.
“I want to be that way for the people back home — for my family, friends, my teammates and my coaches. But I also want to show that talent to people around the state, too.”
People throughout Pennsylvania have heard of Andrew Scanlan, an all-state selection. He drew raves as a receiver last season with 52 catches for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns, and graduated as Spring-Ford’s career leader in all three of those offensive categories. But he was just as valuable on the other side of the ball, too, coming up to make big hits (48 solo tackles) as well as defending the pass (three interceptions, 12 deflections).
Still, all those numbers and honors were, at one time, nothing but a dream for Scanlan.
A dream, that is, until shortly after a positions meeting with Brubaker following his junior season at Spring-Ford.
“Coach Brubaker told me my goal should be to play in the Big 33 Football Classic,” Scanlan recalled. “Coach told me if I worked hard enough the rest of my game would come along. He pushed me to work toward that goal.
“That really opened my eyes, opened my eyes wide enough to realize that if Coach Brubaker thought I could do this then I had a good chance to play in this game.”
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Scanlan is one of five District 1 players in tonight’s game. The other four are Pennsbury offensive lineman J.J. Denman (Rutgers), Council Rock South tight end P.J. Gallo (Maryland), and Neshaminy defensive end Kiser Terry (Temple). Interboro head coach Steve Lennox is an assistant on the Pennsylvania staff. … Ohio won last year’s game 50-14, the most points a Pennsylvania team has allowed any opponent in the series, which began in 1958 and has included two all-Pennsylvania all-star teams playing one another twice in 1980. … Opposition has come from USA All-Stars (1958-60), Texas, Maryland and, of course, Ohio (five games from 1972 through 1976 and every year since 1993). … Ohio has won the last three meetings, while Pennsylvania won the previous three (2006-08). The overall series with Ohio is tied at 12-12. … A news conference Friday tonight featured among others, four college coaches, all who’ll begin their first seasons this fall, with a lot of interest in the game — Bill O’Brien of Penn State, Paul Chryst of Pitt, Steve Addazio of Temple, and Urban Meyer of Ohio State. Also present was two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, this year’s Big 33 Honorary Chairman.
Scanlan’s mother, Tara, and his two younger sisters — Kyra and Jovanna — will be among the thousands in attendance for tonight’s game, which will be broadcast live on Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN), with an encore presentation scheduled for 10 p.m. Sunday. … Scanlan leaves August 3 for Northwestern. “(The coaches) told me what I had to work on, told me to come out and be ready to compete,” Scanlan said. “That’s all I think about every snap of the ball out here. I want to get better every single day and be ready when I get out (to Northwestern).”