The Lancaster-Lebanon League hit the jackpot when it came to Big 33 roster spots in 2021, with five senior players being invited to play in the 64th clash on Memorial Day Weekend in Harrisburg.
McCaskey’s Sam Hershey, Manheim Township’s Evan Clark, and the Warwick trio of Nolan Rucci, Caleb Schmitz and Joey McCracken all made Pennsylvania’s roster. McCracken was a late addition, giving the L-L League five invitees.
That’s the second most L-L League players making a single Big 33 roster in one year, by the way.
That got us wondering: How many L-L League players over the years have graced Big 33 rosters? It’s a pretty impressive number: 82.
The L-L League was hatched in 1972; it will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the fall.
Three L-L League skippers have coached Pennsylvania’s team in a Big 33 game: Wilson’s Gerry Slemmer in 1994, Manheim Central’s Mike Williams in 1996, and Manheim Township’s Mark Evans in 2018. Slemmer also played in the Big 33 game, repping the Bulldogs in 1970 in the pre-L-L League days.
The first Big 33 rosters were picked in 1957, although there was no game that year.
The first on-field game came in 1958, and there have been several different opponents for Pennsylvania’s all-stars over the years: First there were all-star teams comprised from players across the United States, followed by Texas all-stars, Ohio all-stars and most recently against Maryland all-stars. There were multiple years where it was Pennsylvania East vs. Pennsylvania West, and in 1980, they played two games.
There has never been a Super Bowl played without a Big 33 alum on one of the team’s rosters.
This year’s game against Maryland is set for Memorial Day Weekend at Landis Field in Harrisburg, and Rucci, Schmitz, McCracken, Clark and Hershey will be repping the L-L League.
Here’s a trip down memory lane, listing all of the L-L League players who were invited to play in the Big 33 game. This includes players from 1972 until the present.
Two caveats: Because of injuries, not all of these players appeared in the game, but were on the roster. Second, the 2020 game wasn’t played because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The list includes a couple of players from Reading, which was an L-L League member from 1987 to 2009.
1972: The first L-L League player to grace a Big 33 roster was McCaskey’s Rick Koehler, who went on to play at Rhode Island.
1976: Jeff Morrow, Annville-Cleona.
1977: Mike Steif, Manheim Township.
1979: Jay Gicker, Solanco (Temple); Mike Mohler, Wilson; Randy Simcox, Wilson (Delaware). The first time multiple L-L League players made the roster, including a pair of Bulldogs’ teammates. That wouldn’t be the last time multiple Wilson players made it the same year, as the Bulldogs have had quite the haul over the years.
1980: Dino DiPaulo, Lancaster Catholic; John Gurski, Wilson (Penn State); Frank Reich, Cedar Crest (Maryland). Back-to-back years with a trio of L-L League picks, and Reich went on to become an NFL quarterback — who will ever forget that epic Bills-Oilers game? — and he’s the Indianapolis Colts head coach.
1982: Eric Andrejev, Conestoga Valley (Millersville); Leroy Schannauer, Wilson (Clarion); Mike Shiner, Elco (Kentucky). After no picks in 1981, three more L-L League players made the roster here. Andrejev was the first of several CV wideouts to make this list moving forward.
1984: Jeff Brubaker, Conestoga Valley (Penn State); Thomas Burger, Lancaster Catholic (Duke); James Miklos, Lancaster Catholic (Penn). It’s the second time L-L League teammates made the Big 33 roster, and Brubaker went on to help Penn State win a title; his son Ryan Brubaker, a junior at Cocalico, has 30-plus college scholarship offers, and has been a chip off the old block in the O-line trenches.
1985: Steve France, Lancaster Catholic (Ohio State); Tony Franciscus, Conestoga Valley (Maryland); Eric Baumgardner, Lancaster Catholic (Syracuse); Sam Turner, Conestoga Valley (Central State). Lancaster Catholic teammates and CV teammates graced the roster, and the Bucks produced their second straight stud O-lineman (Franciscus, following Brubaker) for a roster spot. It was also the first time four L-L League players made the Big 33 the same year.
1988: Richard Reyes, Reading (Central State). After two years with zero picks, Reyes was the league’s lone selection here.
1990: Kerry Collins, Wilson (Penn State); Barry Hawkins, Donegal (West Virginia); Pete Tirado, McCaskey (Potomac State). Collins went on to star for Penn State and play QB in the NFL.
1991: Eric Clair, Elizabethtown (Penn State); Keith Morris, Elizabethtown (West Virginia). The Bears’ bookend teammates made the squad.
1992: Ken Buczynski, Wilson (Virginia); Anthony Hardy, Reading (Nassau JC); Mike Horn, Conestoga Valley (West Virginia).
1994: Darryl Daniel, Conestoga Valley (Syracuse); Troy Logan, McCaskey (Delaware State). Another CV WR here, and Daniel went on to play in NFL Europe, and he’s back mentoring L-L League athletes as a personal trainer in the area.
1995: Corey Jones, Conestoga Valley (Penn State); Ethan Weidle, Lebanon Catholic (Pitt). Back-to-back years for a CV WR in Jones, the future Nittany Lion.
1997: John Gilmore, Wilson (Penn State). He went on to play in the NFL.
1999: Rob Blomeier, Manheim Township (Nebraska); Mike Kitchen, Lebanon (Georgia Tech); Elly Salamo, Reading (Syracuse); Kris Wilson, McCaskey (Pitt). Wilson, a McCaskey legend, played in the NFL. That was the second time four L-L League players were selected the same year.
2000: Pete Gilmore, Wilson (Penn State); Jeff Smoker, Manheim Central (Michigan State); Michael Van Aken, Cedar Crest (James Madison). Smoker, a Barons’ legend, went on to have a career in the Arena League, and he was in a couple of NFL camps.
2001: Joe Kreider, Manheim Central (New Hampshire); Andy Roland, Wilson (Duke); Jason Saks, Manheim Central (Villanova); Lamar Stewart, Reading (Penn State). Two Barons’ teammates on the roster.
2002: Sam Bryant, Reading (Pitt); Ian Firestone, Wilson (North Carolina); Jaren Hayes, Cedar Crest (Michigan State); Danny Melendez, McCaskey (Maryland); Perry Patterson, McCaskey (Syracuse); Justin Stull, Manheim Township (Princeton). That’s the biggest haul by any L-L League class with six selections.
2003: Joel Holler, McCaskey (Penn State); Andy Lehatto, Wilson (Richmond). Like Conestoga Valley, the Bulldogs also put a lot of receivers on this list.
2004: Mike Byrne, Manheim Central (Delaware); Chad Henne, Wilson (Michigan). Byrne helped the Barons win state gold in 2003, and Henne went on to a career in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs this past season.
2005: Roger Hall, Reading.
2006: Jared Odrick, Lebanon (Penn State). He went on to play in the NFL.
2007: Josh Smith, Wilson (Pitt).
2008: David Soldner, Manheim Township (Penn State).
2009: James Capello, Lebanon (Iowa State).
2010: Arron Achey, Elco (Maine); Tyler Beck, Wilson (Bowling Green).
2012: Adam DePietro, Lancaster Catholic (Northwestern); Bryant Myer, Manheim Central (Messiah). DePietro helped Catholic win the state title in 2011.
2013: Junior Joseph, Wilson (UConn); Tyler Karpinski, Manheim Township (Temple); Aaron Swinton, McCaskey (William & Mary).
2014: Mitchell Sweigart, Penn Manor (Princeton).
2016: Ike Schannauer, Wilson (Robert Morris); Jon Fox, Wilson (Bucknell). Bulldogs’ teammates made the roster.
2017: Alex Twiford, Wilson (Bucknell). Three Wilson players in two years made the roster.
2018: Luke Emge, Manheim Township (Harvard); Jose Barbon, Conestoga Valley (Temple); Casey McCollum, Penn Manor (Lafayette); Drake Puffenbarger, Manheim Township (IUP). Barbon yet another CV wideout on the list.
2019: Hayden Rucci, Warwick (Wisconsin). His day (Todd) and younger brother (Nolan) also made Big 33 rosters.
2020: Noah Palm, Cocalico (New Hampshire); Brock Gingrich, Cocalico (Delaware). Eagles’ teammates made the roster, although the game was canceled.
2021: Sam Hershey, McCaskey; Evan Clark, Manheim Township (Penn State); Caleb Schmitz, Warwick (Cincinnati); Nolan Rucci (Wisconsin); Joey McCracken, Warwick (Maine). With five picks, this group trails only the six players selected in 2002.
THE FINAL L-L LEAGUE TALLY: Wilson (18), McCaskey (9), Conestoga Valley (8), Manheim Township (8), Lancaster Catholic (6), Reading (6), Manheim Central (5), Warwick (4), Cedar Crest (3), Lebanon (3), Cocalico (2), Elco (2), Elizabethtown (2), Penn Manor (2), Annville-Cleona (1), Donegal (1), Lebanon Catholic (1), Solanco (1).
What about the pre-L-L League days? There were 24 players from either Lancaster County or Lebanon County who made a Big 33 roster, repping a school that later played in the L-L League.
Here is that list …
1957: Jim Burger, Lebanon; Ben Charles, Lancaster Catholic; Ken Wolfe, Lebanon. No game that year, just a roster of all-stars.
1958: Barry Butzger, McCaskey; Josh McFalls, McCaskey; Paul Miller, Lebanon.
1959: Carl Kuhn, McCaskey.
1960: Paul Fedor, McCaskey; Frank Hershey, McCaskey; Mark Snyder, Lebanon.
1961: Frank Metzger, McCaskey; Clark Sillick, Lebanon; Ken Stoudt, McCaskey.
1963: Harry Garmen, McCaskey.
1967: Mike Smith, Lebanon Catholic.
1968: John Male, Warwick; Mike Reitz, Wilson.
1969: Todd Bushnell, Manheim Township.
1970: Gerry Slemmer, Wilson.
1971: Mike Axe, McCaskey; Fred Demler, Lebanon Catholic; Dale Gingrich, Annville-Cleona.
1972: James Fehling, Wilson; Bob Yost, Lebanon Catholic.