Warren County gridders embracing Big 30 experience

Eisenhower’s Ethan Chambers breaks free during practice for the annual Don Raabe Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic, Tuesday, July 30, 2019 at War Memorial Field. The game will take place on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Bradford’s Parkway Field.

As the calendar flips to August, most high school football players are gearing up for their heat acclimation and fall camps.

For a select group of Warren County gridders, the clock is counting down to their final appearance on the gridiron. For those eight players, that appearance will come at the 46th annual Don Raabe Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic Saturday at Parkway Field in Bradford.

“I wanted to play in this game since I was a little kid,” Sheffield’s Nick Knowles said.

Knowles joins Eisenhower’s Nate Holt, Ethan Chambers and Riley West and Warren’s Justin Eck, Collin Salapek, Devin McMeans and Marvin Bryant in representing Warren County on the Pennsylvania team.

The Pennsylvania team was at War Memorial Field Tuesday for practice as they prepare to take on the New York squad. Not only do the players have to learn a new playbook, but they have to quickly find a way to go from bitter opponent to teammate in a short period.

Warren’s Marvin Bryant gets set to make a block during practice for the Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic, Tuesday, July 30, 2019 at War Memorial Field. Bryant, along with high school teammates Devin McMeans, Collin Salapek and Justin Eck, Eisenhower’s Ethan Chambers, Nate Holt and Riley West and Sheffield Nick Knowles will represent Warren County in the annual game.

“It was weird walking in and seeing eight or nine guys you wanted to destroy a few months ago as teammates,” Eck said. “But we’re more of a team now. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“We’ve been learning quickly,” Holt added. “We all have the same goal – beat New York.”

This year, the Pennsylvania squad is under the direction of Bradford head coach Jeff Puglio and his staff. Though the Owls run a similar style offense to what the Knights ran last season, there are still nuances to Puglio’s system that differ.

“There’s different terminology and techniques,” Holt said.

“It’s not easy,” Knowles said. “We looked really dumb the first day, but we’re getting it.”

The Big 30 All-Stars Charities Classic was created to raise money for distribution to individuals or charitable organizations in the Pennsylvania counties of McKean, Cameron, Elk, Potter and Warren, and the New York counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua. To date, the organization has raised and donated over $1.6 million.

Along with Eisenhower, Sheffield and Warren, Pennsylvania’s roster is made up of players from Bradford, Cameron County, Coudersport, Elk County Catholic, Kane, Otto-Eldred, Port Allegany, Ridgway (combined with Johnsonburg), Smethport and St. Marys.

The New York side features graduated seniors from Allegany-Limestone, Bolivar-Richburg, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Cuba-Rushford, Ellicottville-Franklinville, Frewsburg, Gowanda, Olean, Pioneer, Portville, Randolph, Salamanca, Southwestern and Wellsville.

Prior to the game, there will be a parade beginning at 2:30 p.m. and a tailgate in the Bradford High School parking lot. Gates open at 5 p.m. with pregame activities slated to start at 6:15 p.m. and kickoff at 7 p.m.

New York leads the all-time series, 22-21-2, but Pennsylvania has won three straight including a 37-22 win last year.

While the win would be a nice way for local seniors to close out their high school careers, they’re looking forward to taking in the entire experience.

“I’m looking forward to playing again,” Knowles said. “I want to feel how special this game is.”

” I want to strap up one more time and take it all in,” Holt added.

“This is a big honor,” Eck said. “I want to feel the crowd again one last time.”