"I've wanted to do this since I was a little kid," said 2012 Eisenhower High School graduate Jordan Hefferman. "I went (to the game) every year to watch those guys."
Now, as an offensive lineman for Pennsylvania at Saturday's 39th Annual Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic, Hefferman is one of those guys, and says it feels, "really awesome."
After just a week and a half back in full pads, the Pennsylvania team is readying to go head-to-head with New York at 7 p.m. at Bradford's Parkway.
Times Observer photo by Mitchell Wilston
Finding the gap
Sheffield graduate Nick Bonavita dashes through an open gap during team Pennsylvania’s Big 30 practice on Wednesday at Sheffield High School.
Pennsylvania will look to build a win streak following last year's 28-3 rout over New York.
According to Hefferman, things are going well.
"Practice is going great. We are ready, the defense is huge, though," said Hefferman, right guard.
While a big defense is tough to deal with in practice, that's exactly who you want on your team during the big game.
Warren Area High School graduate Bobby Atkins, left tackle, agrees with Hefferman.
"I think our defense is really good," said Atkins.
The PA vs. NY rivalry hasn't cooled off.
According to Atkins, the team has one thing on their mind:
"To kill New York," he said. "There are other words that I can't say, but we just want to beat New York."
Atkins will be joined back on the field by fellow Warren graduates Chris Danielson - free safety - and Nathan Zigler - tight end.
While they're certainly ready to go, Pennsylvania's offense is still ironing out some wrinkles.
"Our offense is getting there and we're going to be pretty good but it's hard to learn an offense in two weeks," said Atkins.
Sheffield graduate and PA running back Nick Bonavita agrees that the short time frame has been a challenge for the offense.
"It's crazy; two-a-days is usually two weeks and then you have a whole season to learn. This is pretty much a week and a half to learn everything, but with all of the all-stars on the field it's going well. We understand both sides of the ball and we're ready to play one last time," said Bonavita. It helps he's being coached by his high school team's coaching staff. Former Sheffield head coach Bryan Gould is the PA head coach, and the current Sheffield head coach Dave Fitch is coaching, too.
While they're learning the x's and o's of football, the PA players are also learning a lot about their former rivals turned teammates.
"The other day, after the first practice actually, we ate lunch with the Bradford kids, which was really weird with the Warren-Bradford rivalry, but we're friends with the Bradford kids now," said Atkins.
Other ex-rivals playing together are Eisenhower's Clay Coffaro - safety - and Logan Head - outside linebacker, who will take the field with Youngsville's Sawyer Dininny - defensive tackle. Playing with their rivals, instead of against them, has shed some new light on the experience.
"Coming up, you're bred to hate these guys," said Bonavita.
"Then our senior season is over and now we're talking to these guys and hearing it from their side. When we're facing Otto or Kane in the regular season we are thinking it's going to be a good game but they're in our way. I always wanted to know what they were thinking and I guess it's the same thing."
As a Sheffield graduate, this Big 30 experience is special for Bonavita, who is playing with four of his Sheffield teammates: George Fitch - tight end, Jeb Greto - center, Ike Nearing - quarterback, and Kalil Slaughter - tailback.
"It's pretty cool. We have five people, the most we've ever had and we've been playing football together since WCYFL, except Kalil, and he has just as big a heart as all of us and he's just as excited for it," said Bonavita.
"With Gould leaving, it's really special to have this core group here with the coaches that have been teaching us half of our lives. It worked out perfectly," he said.
After a high-octane season for the Wolverines, the ride isn't over yet.
"The football season was just awesome, and this is another add on for it and is one last time to go out big and hopefully win it," said Bonavita. "We all are just focusing on beating New York and it works out that the defense is blue so it helps the offense visualize that."
Gould said it helps having all five Wolverines - his former players - on offense.
"That's the toughest task, honestly," said Gould, Fifteen different high schools coming together, 15 different terminologies, and now you have to jam it into two weeks (of practices)."
He said a Smethport player, for example, ran plays into holes created by the linemen opposite of what the Sheffield team created.
"That's the toughest part, getting the offense on the same page," said Gould. "Now, with these guys, with the talent, we have a lot of weapons."
That includes the offense line. But Gould has reminded the offensive line that they have gone up against a pretty formidable defensive line in PA practices.
"I'll put both defensive lines we have against anybody, because they are tough," he said.
With the final padded practice behind it, the Pennsylvania squad only has a banquet and a walk-through left before getting to take the field against New York.
"We're just going to go in and destroy them," said Hefferman.