Damion Barber, Des Holmes and Carson Landis will join the Nittany Lions soon enough. But before they do, they have one final high school game.
The trio of incoming Penn State freshmen is set to take part in the 60th Annual Big 33 Football Classic, a yearly all-star game between Pennsylvania and Maryland, on Saturday night at Landis Field. Barber, a four-star defensive end from Harrisburg, and Holmes, a three-star offensive tackle from Cardinal O’Hara — as well as Landis, a walk-on kicker from Emmaus — will represent Pennsylvania.
And just before heading out to the Central Dauphin field for a Friday walk-through, excitement beamed from all three future Nittany Lions’ faces.
“It’s truly amazing,” Holmes said. “There have been a lot of great guys who came through here and, to be selected, it’s a blessing.”
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As Holmes mentioned, the Big 33 Classic has a rich history. Notable alumni include quarterbacks Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Jim Kelly, who will participate in this year’s coin toss.
Penn State has been well-represented over the years, too. Happy Valley legends — such as LaVar Arrington, Kerry Collins and Kyle Brady — took part, as did more recent Nittany Lions. Running back Miles Sanders won the game’s MVP in 2016 after Pennsylvania defeated linebacker Cam Brown’s Maryland squad.
Holmes, Barber and Landis won’t face any future teammates on the Maryland team. However, that doesn’t take away from the players’ emotional investment.
“Everyone’s passionate about winning,” Landis said. “I’m really excited for gameday.”
The battle between Pennsylvania and Maryland is obviously the cap to Big 33 week, but the days leading up to kickoff provided lasting memories, as well.
On Monday and Tuesday, both teams visited Veterans Hospital and, on Wednesday, the players met their Big 33 Buddy Program special-needs kids. Money raised from the game helps suppor the program.
Meanwhile, honorary chairman and former Nittany Lions defensive tackle Jordan Hill joined Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence on Friday afternoon to talk to both teams about their playing experiences.
“We were able to ask him questions, and he was talking a lot about school work, going to college, the NFL,” Holmes said. “He worked really hard at his school work, and that’s something I just really respected. If you want to get to the highest level, you have to dedicate yourself and make sacrifices.”
Holmes, Barber and Landis are taking those lessons learned to heart as they prepare for their Nittany Lion careers.
For the trio, the Big 33 Classic is the final high school game they’ll play. Next time they’re in a live football situation, it’ll be at the Lasch practice facility in the shadow of Beaver Stadium.
Win or lose on Saturday night, Barber, Holmes and Landis wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
But of course, they’d love to beat Maryland.
“This week has gone by fast,” Barber said softly. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we all have to enjoy it.”
60th Annual Big 33 Football Classic
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Landis Field, Harrisburg
What: All-star game between Pennsylvania and Maryland