It’s fitting that Miles Sanders and Cam Brown play on opposite sides of the ball.
On Tuesday, the two Penn State football signees finished up the fourth practice of a week’s worth of two-a-days at Lower Dauphin High School in preparation for the annual Big 33 Classic. The game pits the best players from Pennsylvania against those from Maryland, and Sanders, a Pittsburgh native, is playing for the Pennsylvania side while Brown is on the Maryland team.
The game itself is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, but the week prior is all about shaking the rust out of muscles, slapping on some pads, knocking each other around a bit, and, of course, the community service events on which the Big 33 Foundation prides itself.
Brown and Sanders will be roommates at Penn State in the fall, but the two prep standouts don’t seem to have much in common at a glance.
Sanders, a running back, is a little on the stockier side at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds (he said he’s expected to pack on about 25 more once he gets on campus). He’s quietly confident, and as laid-back off the field as he is softspoken.
“I’m a different person on the field,” he said. “But like, in the classroom I’m pretty quiet. I like staying to myself, getting my work done.”
Brown, an outside linebacker, seems a polar opposite to Sanders. He’s an easy laugher with a wide grin and lanky limbs on a 6-foot-5 frame (he’ll try to put on about 50 pounds or more once he gets to Penn State and could eventually move from linebacker to defensive end).
He’s big, really big. Going against him is going to be fun, it’s going to be really hard to get away from him.
Incoming Penn State running back Miles Sanders on incoming linebacker Cam Brown, during Big 33 practices
While Sanders grew up with Penn State on his radar, Brown barely knew about the university or its linebacker tradition.
“I wasn’t really a big fan of Penn State before, but I’ve been paying more attention and it’s a great tradition and I’ve fallen in love with it,” said Brown, who joked that he grew up “hating” the University of Maryland (even though he’s proud of his state).
The two players certainly found a common thread when asked to provide brief scouting reports on the other.
Sanders likely won’t take the lion’s share of the carries, he said, in the interest of keeping his body safe. But when he does, Brown said he’ll probably cut to the outside.
“It’s perfect for me, because I’ll be there waiting,” he grinned.
“He’s big, really big,” laughed Sanders when asked to describe Brown. “Going against him is going to be fun, it’s going to be really hard to get away from him.”
And both are excited to get to Penn State.
“I’m more excited than anything, a little nervous about the competition with the older guys. I’m not scared of the competition, though,” said Brown. “But I mean, I’m trying to beat guys out for spots right away.”
Added Sanders, “I’m just looking forward to going in there and making an impact early. I’m going to do the exact same thing Saquon (Barkley) did. Try and get with the older players (who are) starting and have them help me with the playbook, and just be locked in and mentally ready.”
NFL GM Steve Keim addresses players
Harrisburg native and Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim was in attendance at Tuesday’s practice, and addressed players before they took the field.
Keim, a former standout offensive lineman at Red Land High School and a 2004 Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inductee, spoke about his own experience as a participant in the Big 33 game.
“In 2013, I was named the youngest general manager in the NFL,” he said. “Let me tell you, to this day, to this day the biggest honor that I ever had was when my high school (football) coach pulled me out of class and told me that I was going to make the Big 33 football team.
“That was the happiest day of my life. It was such an honor. I grew up 15, 20 miles from here and I dreamed about playing in this game. It was all I ever wanted to do.”
Keim also advised players to continue to make good choices and be leaders in their communities — even the importance of showing up on time. As a few players straggled out late to the practice field, he drily remarked that a move like that “would cost you $5,000 in the NFL.”