Rucci makes memories in the Big 33 Classic

By on May 29, 2019
During player introductions prior to Monday’s Big 33 Classic, Warrior senior Hayden Rucci displays the Warwick ‘W’ sign for a photographer. Photo by Missi Mortimer

During player introductions prior to Monday’s Big 33 Classic, Warrior senior Hayden Rucci displays the Warwick ‘W’ sign for a photographer. Photo by Missi Mortimer

In the not too distant future, Central York QB Cade Pribula expects to turn on ABC TV and watch Warwick’s Hayden Rucci playing college football at the University of Wisconsin.

When he does, Pribula will watch closely.

“(Hayden)’s perfect for that system,” the 6-foot-1, 200-pound signal caller said, “so I’m excited to see what he does. He’s a great guy.”

Pribula would know.

The two were teammates in the 62nd annual Big 33 Classic, in which Team Pennsylvania shut out Maryland 21-0 Monday at Central Dauphin’s Landis Field in Harrisburg.

The loss avenged last year’s 9-6 loss to Maryland.

“Just being able to go against a whole other state while representing Pennsylvania, and especially on Memorial Day — it’s a lot bigger than just football, but it’s definitely good to get a win,” Rucci said.

Rucci, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end, caught two passes for four yards — both from Pribula — and threw a block to help protect QB Kane Everson on a 31-yard TD strike to Baylor-recruit Yusuf Terry with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

“Going from regular high school football to this game, the competition is a lot better and that’s what I challenged myself with is to stay on my game,” said Rucci, wearing his sweat-soaked number 33 jersey.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he has added 25 pounds to his frame since the Warriors’ season ended last November in the District Three 5A playoff quarterfinals.

Rucci received a workout program through an app downloaded from Wisconsin, and he was a regular in the weight room. Having hung up his basketball shoes after his sophomore year, he gave up lacrosse this spring to focus on studying the Badgers’ playbook and getting bigger.

“Honestly, I just feel more powerful,” Rucci said.

It wasn’t lost on his Big 33 teammates.

Hayden’s a great player,” said Pribula, a University of Delaware recruit. “He’s a big body, he does a lot of dirty work and he can escape out for play-action and be a threat downfield.”

“Hayden’s a great player, he’s going to do real good in the Big 10 at Wisconsin,” Terry said. “He’s real strong and physical.”

With Team Pennsylvania up 14-0 late in the first half, head coach Mark Lyons, of Central Valley, looked to take advantage of Rucci’s strength when a shuttle pass was called for him up the middle.

Unfortunately, the play was read by a linebacker, who made the stop for no gain.

Then early in the fourth, Rucci caught a pass in the right flat for a four-yard gain.

“I was pulling because that’s what they were having me do a lot,” he said, “and it was more like a slip play. I had a little space out in the flat and I tried to make as much as I could with it. The corner got low on me.”

During his high school career at Warwick, Rucci hauled in 58 passes for 1,130 yards and 12 TDs. On Monday, he was just happy to contribute wherever needed.

“I could tell today (I had better power) getting a couple of pancakes,” said Rucci, an All-USA Pennsylvania First-Team tight end and a Pennsylvania Football Writers’ 5A All-State selection. “I wasn’t used a whole lot in the passing game, but that’s alright. It’s an All-Star game, we had a bunch of really good receivers and I know I’m going to be used differently in college than I was here, so I wasn’t really worried about it. In college, I’m going to be playing more of the traditional wide tight end.”

College, in fact, is now just around the corner. Rucci will graduate with Warwick’s Class of 2019 on Tuesday, June 11.

A short time later, he’ll be off to Madison, Wisc.

“I’ve got three days to pack,” Rucci said.

Certainly he will be packing a lot of memories too.

Not the least is knowing that, in his final prep career game, he played on the same Big 33 stage shared by NFL greats like Joe Montana, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Dorsett, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Namath and Curtis Martin.

“Growing up in Penn State (territory), there’s not a game bigger in the state of Pennsylvania, so I can’t say enough about how special it was,” Rucci said.

Adding to the special experience was the host family with whom he stayed last week.

David Umberger was only 8 years old when Hayden’s father, Todd, played in the 1988 Big 33 Game and stayed with the Umberger family.

And when it came time for players in this year’s Classic to be assigned to host families, David, his wife, Jill, and their children — Blake, Mason and Cole — were able to open their doors to Hayden.

“It’s kinda crazy to think about how it all worked out, the legacy of everything,” Hayden said. “I had so much fun with these guys.”

A couple of years down the road, there may be another Rucci playing in the Big 33. Nolan, a 6-foot-8 rising junior offensive lineman for Warwick, has already received 15 offers to play at the next level.

So who knows? The Umbergers might get the chance to continue the legacy.

“That would be pretty special,” Hayden said. “I think if he has that opportunity, we’re going to try to line that up.”

That, however, is down the road.

In the immediate future is Hayden’s next chapter at Wisconsin.

And no doubt, in the back of Rucci’s mind, and his teammates on the Big 33 team, is the fact that no Super Bowl has been played without a Big 33 alum.

“It’s going to be one of us,” Pribula said. “We’ll see. That’s why we’re working.”



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