11 from county play final high school game at Big 30 Classic

From back-to-back region championships for one school to the first league title in the history of another, the Class of 2014 gave football fans plenty to cheer for during their time on the gridiron.

This Saturday, 11 graduated seniors from Eisenhower, Sheffield, Warren, and Youngsville will take the field for Team Pennsylvania in the Don Raabe Big 30 Senior Classic at Bradford High School.

Eisenhower’s Alex Johnson, Bryce Garris, Jared Flaisman, and Jon Shelton, Sheffield’s Brandon Kipp, Calvin Sutton, Dustin Holden, and Noah Heeter, Warren’s Luke Wortman and Geoff Stewart, and Youngsville’s Kris Wilcox make up this year’s Warren County representatives. They will join with players from Elk, McKean, Potter, and Cameron Counties to square off against New York in the game’s 41st installment.

The Pennsylvania team is coached by Otto-Eldred’s Virgil Graham, a Big 30 alum who scored a game-record five touchdowns on nine carries in 2005. Graham’s coaching style primarily uses four wide receivers and one running back.

“Offensively, we’re spreading it out,” said Graham. “My philosophy is to block as few as we can and play the numbers game at the point of attack.”

Graham will utilize Johnson, Heeter, and Holden as skill players in his attacking offense.

“Alex Johnson is one of the running backs and so far, he’s been one of the biggest surprises. He’s just a big, powerful runner,” said Graham of the Ike running back, who was Co-Player of the Year in Region 2 and a second-team all-state selection. “As a coach one of the toughest things is having a squad of 44 guys and 12 of them I’ve never seen. When you’re not playing in that league you don’t follow it, so you’ve got Johnson who’s a 1,000-yard rusher and I hadn’t ever heard of him.”

Johnson will continue his football career at Geneva College next year, but first he’ll have a chance to suit up one last time with Eisenhower teammates Flaisman, Garris, and Shelton – who has committed to Division III powerhouse Mount Union as an offensive lineman.

Shelton and Flaisman were both all-region picks on the line as was Garris at linebacker. Garris was named Eisenhower’s Most Valuable Defensive Player in 2013.

All-region quarterback/defensive back Rob Wilston was selected to the Pennsylvania team but had to drop out due to an injury.

The four Sheffield representatives are a little more familiar to the coach after playing four years against Graham’s Otto-Eldred team in the AML North. Heeter – an Olean Times-Herald All-Star and Allegheny Mountain League All-Star – and Holden will be used as wide receivers while Sutton and Kipp will help to hold things down on the defensive side of the ball.

“Calvin Sutton at d-tackle is a real solid, strong kid who’s tough to move,” added Graham. “Kipp is at linebacker. He’s a shorter, stocky guy but he’s real scrappy. He’s all over the place.”

Joining Kipp at linebacker will be Wilcox and Wortman. Stewart – Warren’s Lineman of the Year in 2013 – is at defensive tackle where Graham said he “causes problems” for opposing offensive linemen.

Wortman and Stewart both earned second-team all-region honors for the Dragons at their respective positions last season. The Big 30 will be a return of sorts for Wilcox, who missed the end of Youngsville’s season with an injury.

Since 1974, the Don Raabe Big 30 Senior Classic has raised over $1.4 million for charities across northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York. New York currently leads the all-time series 20-18-2.

“I think we’re a solid group overall,” said Graham. “There are days where the offense has gone out and had the upper hand in practice but lately, it’s been the defense that’s had the upper hand. I’m confident on both sides of the ball. I feel like we’ll do a good job against the New York team.”