Quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg to lead Pennsylvania team in Big 33 game

Skyler Mornhinweg
Skyler Mornhinweg
Posted: June 16, 2012

Skyler Mornhinweg still remembers the first team meeting that Gabe Infante held at St. Joseph's Prep. So does the 39-year-old coach.

Infante had just taken over after Gil Brooks was fired, and some players had already made arrangements to visit other schools to transfer. So Infante called the meeting.

In front of his players, he discussed Xs and Os and the offense he wanted to run. He talked about the unique situation they were in. And, most important, they talked about each other.

Twenty-five months later, after all they've been through together - adversity, a down season, and a recruiting process turned on its head - Infante will watch his star quarterback from the bleachers for the first time Saturday night when Mornhinweg serves as the Pennsylvania signal-caller in the annual Big 33 game in Hershey, Pa., pitting the best Pennsylvania seniors against the best Ohio seniors.

"After that first meeting, I was just like, 'Shoot, we got a really good coach," Mornhinweg said. "I'm just excited to get out there for the Big 33 game. I think it's going to be really fun."

Mornhinweg, who passed for 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns last fall, will be surrounded by stars at every position and an offensive line that averages 280 pounds at each position.

In the backfield, he'll see the familiar No. 1 jersey of Desmon Peoples, the all-everything running back who has spent the last two seasons with Archbishop Wood. Mornhinweg and Peoples formed one of the best young one-two punches when they started as sophomores on Brooks' last Prep team. Peoples transferred after that season.

"It's been a little wild playing with him again," Peoples said of Mornhinweg. "There are so many good guys on this team, it's been fun. We all kind of know each other from other games or have heard of each other before."

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back sprinted for 1,241 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games last fall. He is headed to Rutgers along with three others from the Pennsylvania team. They include Brandon Arcidiacono, an offensive lineman who blocked for Peoples at Wood, which led the state with four players selected to the team.

Fellow Vikings Frank Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound lineman bound for Boston College, and ball-hawking defensive back Nate Smith, headed to Temple, look to make an impact.

"Those guys are really talented," Peoples said of the Pennsylvania team. "We got after it pretty good all week. Now we're just dotting the i's and crossing the t's getting ready."

The game's history features players such as Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and Joe Namath. A Big 33 alumnus has appeared in every Super Bowl.

Ohio has won the last three games, taking last season's contest, 50-14.

The Mike Brennan-led Pennsylvania squad will run a variation of the spread offense and use a big defensive line and talented cornerbacks to try to thwart the Ohio attack.

"We've got some really talented guys on the outside that can make plays," Mornhinweg said. "We've been practicing two to three times a day and in meetings outside of that. I think it's going to be a good game."

Mornhinweg and Infante really started to build a relationship during Mornhinweg's college-recruiting process, which was drawn out after the former Penn State pledge decommitted following the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal that resulted in coach Joe Paterno's firing.

Infante helped Mornhinweg keep his options open before he eventually committed to the University of Florida. It didn't hurt, Mornhinweg said, that his father, Marty, the Eagles' offensive coordinator, could lend a helping hand or word of advice when Skyler needed it.

"I'm real lucky to have these great coaches and figures to look up to," Mornhinweg said. "My dad likes to sit back and let Coach Infante do a lot, and then if I have any other questions my dad is more than happy to talk. It's been a great mixture of the two."

Infante thinks back to that first closed-door meeting. It was the start of his career at St. Joseph's Prep. But it was also the start of a quarterback-coach relationship he'll never forget.

"That first season was the toughest thing I've ever done in my career," Infante said. "But getting to work with Skyler - it was like you know the sun's going to come out. He trusted in me and really showed his character and that he had so much more than just an ability to play.

"This is the toughest part of coaching, though. Saying goodbye."

Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@philly.com or at 215-854-4550. Follow on Twitter @ChadGraff.


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