Scout.com: Take us back to the beginning of this whole process, when did you start planning for the Crab Bowl?
O'Connor: It was actually in November of last year. We were at another all star game, Chuck and I, and we said, you know, this is something that this state needs. Not to disrespect other states or other games, but there is no state game and Maryland is a football state. When you consider yourself a football state, you have to have a game that at least puts you up against somebody. When the Big 33 game left here, and the Super 44 game left which was very short lived. We needed something to at least put these kids on the map. That's what this has really done, it has been able to put these kids who are not only the top notch kids, but the lesser known guys, the ones right below the top notch kids, who are just as good as those other guys, but they maybe don't have the game film or don't have whatever they need to be able to come out and say, I'm the best player in the state. All 90 of these kids can play, you have seen it, I know Scout.com has been out here every night, every one of these kids can play, there is no kid here that does not belong on this field.
Scout.com: What is the next step in the process? You know the state needs an all star game, what do you do after you say that to get things going?
O'Connor: You say, OK, how are we going to make this happen? Chuck has a very big football background. He has coached, been involved in organizations. I am a marketing guy, I coach high school baseball, but I love football. I'm a football fan. So the idea was to use our resources, him in the media, myself in the internet, and to find out how to make this happen. We wanted to do this first class, with a budget of two guys in mind. We don't have millions and millions of dollars or a shoe deal or clothing deal behind it. We want kids playing for the state of Maryland. To be able to do that, unfortunately you cannot have corporate money the first year, you have to just go out and play for the name of the state.
Scout.com: What was your philosophy in establishing the game?
O'Connor: We used the, 'If you build it they will come philosophy', and I think they will on Saturday. I think we’re going to see a lot of people out there. Hopefully the weather will be good, but I think people are going to come out to see the talent. So after we had the idea and got the ball rolling, the question was how are we going to make this happen and OK, how are we going to get the kids?
Scout.com: How did you recruit the kids to come out for the game?
O'Connor: We used the selection process of college coaches, high school coaches, looked at film and did everything from the process and came out with the idea that we wanted to announce a list in August. We want to get this going. We want to get exposure. We want the kids to be excited, because we realized if we waited until too late, we would not have any momentum behind it. We would not have you here representing Scout.com, these other media outlets wouldn't be here. It would just be another all-star game and to do this and make it just another all star game made absolutely no sense. If you are going to do this, do it right. We got the kids, we got the excitement, and we left a little room for that kid, the special kid who just comes out and has a special senior season. Maybe a kid who is just off of our radar and was not on anybody’s stuff, and we were able to find some of those kids as the season progressed.
Scout.com: How did the kids respond when approached about playing in the game. It is the first year for the game, so how was the initial response?
O’Connor: The funny part is, that it was harder from the aspect of people just asking what was the Crab Bowl? After we established and explained what the Crab Bowl was, the game sold itself. The idea of, well you have two areas that pride themselves on the question, which is better than the other? If you go to message boards in this area, there is always chatter about whose better, Baltimore area football, Montgomery county football, Prince George’s county football. Who’s the better private school is it Loyola, is it Good Counsel, is it Dematha? All these are debates that happen year round in Maryland. And, because of a state like Maryland, which many people do not understand, there is no one unified champion. We have a private school champion, but there is no unified state champion. Regardless of what sport were talking about, Maryland is one of the few states in the country that does not have one final champion. This is at least a way for these kids to have some bragging rights. We also wanted to make it the best kids. People call it an all-star game for a reason. However it is impossible to represent every program in the state. So regardless of whether the ninety best kids came from one school or all different schools, we wanted the best kids.
Scout.com: Who has stepped up and helped you the most with this event?
O’Connor: There are actually two people that through connections and different contributions, as far as us getting out there, a guy named John Vasos, who is very organized. He helped us out with the idea for the youth game and helped us out with connections and this and that. Also Lauren Lawn, who helped us out in marketing and just has so many different connections in the area. Obviously, the University of Maryland as well. To be able to practice on a D-I campus and then play the game at Towson on turf is great as well. Yes we would love to play the game at Maryland, but the reality is they are a grass field. It just comes down to the fact that the game is played in December in the cold and you want to be able to play on turf, you need to make sure it happens. I think we could play this game in Byrd stadium, and we could probably fill it up, but we wanted these kids to be able to play on turf so Towson was the choice. You know, with the weather and with the Ravens and so on; Towson stepped up for us and were happy to be playing there.
Scout.com: What are your thoughts on the first few days of practice, how have things gone so far?
O’Connor: WOW! You know being a football fan, and watching some very good DeMatha football teams with some terrific athletes over the years, that has been one thing, but I have never ever seen football played this fast with such tempo. I mean, if this isn’t D-I college football right before my eyes, I don’t know what is. You see holes close so quickly. You see guys fill with such tenacity. You see ball carriers hit the edge’s with blazing speed. It is unbelievable the specialness of this game. Not only do you have kids who are big time football players, but you also have guys who are out there wanting to compete with one another stepping up to these challenges instead of backing down. That is what makes this game special. We did not have two weeks of practice, ten days of practice, we have three days to practice with one another and what you are seeing is guys going out there and competing for three days, totally laying it out on the line. You see guys who are teammates, you know, yesterday we see Jelani Jenkins and Caleb Porzel have a massive collision. There is no doubt that it was a devastating hit, but the reason Jelani hit him is because he was flying to the ball and going full speed. It is nice for us to be in a first time game, and to have these kids buy into working hard, buy into the idea that we are here to play football, they are not just here to play in an all-star game and collect the accolades which accompany that.
Scout.com: How were the coaches selected for the game?
O’Connor: Well, we selected Baltimore Head Coach Lawrence Smith from Dunbar and Washington Head Coach Dave Mencarini from Quince Orchard first, and then allowed them to select their staffs. We told them to bring along one guy from their staff to help make the process a little easier, and then go around and select other coaches you want to coach with. Either strategically, guys who would be in different areas to help with that, but we really told them to just go out and get guys you would like to work with. Mencarini can go out and get Doug Lamb from the SMAC, who has seen a kid like Gary Fortune play. You go to Montgomery County, or you have Nick Lynch from Suitland and Tom Green from Eleanor Roosevelt who can talk about a kid like Isaiah Ross, because obviously he has coached him. The biggest thing for us was the Baltimore squad. Because they encompass so much of the state, to be able to have representation from such a large area, it did limit them in that it was harder for them to get together and meet with one another. For the D.C. team, it’s easy everybody is ten or fifteen minutes away from the University of Maryland. For the Baltimore team however, you have James McCormick (North Caroline) from the eastern shore, you have guys from way north of Baltimore, it made it a tough task to get together and you have to give these guys a lot of credit. For them to want to do that it says a lot about their character and says a lot about how they feel about football in this state.
Scout.com: What do you hope to get out of this game on Saturday?
O’Connor: (Laughing) I’m hoping for about 100 points scored! No, no obviously as a promoter I’m hoping nobody gets hurt first off. To be totally honest with you, I’m hoping that kids get scholarships from this. If we can get five to ten kids who might not have had offers before to get a look and get a scholarship offer I could not ask for anything more. I think we have already seen looks from schools; my phone has been ringing since the first night of practice. Yes a kid like Jelani, Travis Hawkins, Tavon Austin, they would have already been playing in these national all-star games and would have had the looks. But it’s the other kids who are taking advantage of this opportunity and making names for themselves who I am really thrilled about. That is really the idea of this whole event. For years down the line when a kid gets an invitation to the Maryland Crab Bowl, you don’t wait, you run to the mailbox, and as a matter of fact you might come drop it off at my house that is how excited we want these kids to be. That is our main goal, to keep this going and just get better. We are in talks already to get this thing televised live, this is not the stopping point, this is just the starting point.
Scout.com: How do you get this done with no corporate sponsorship?
O’Connor: We have great partners. With a first year event, especially in this day and age, it is impossible to ask people to financially commit to that sort of thing. We want people involved. We want to give them exactly what they expect they’re getting. I would like to thank everyone who has helped out. Towson University, the Maryland Football Coaches Association, MDVarsity.com, the Quarterback Factory, Mamma Lucia, MJM Graphic Communications, Nightmare Graphics Inc., Hereford Optimist Club Inc., Pro-Scepter, Sports Maryland.com, Recognition Concepts, Arnold Palmer Sports Health Center, Medstar Sports Health, Press Box Preps.com, WNST.net Baltimore AM 1750, the Baltimore Examiner, Digital Scout, Elite Athlete Training Systems, Marlow Sports, I think I got them all. They have all been great, helping out with the uniforms, the video production, the announcing, all different stuff. It helped make this game possible so that two guys on a modest salary could financially back this game. Hopefully the money will come back when people come through the door. That is all we can ask, break even, have fun, and watch great football. We have already seen great football in practice. I just want people to remember to remember this for a long, long time. You saw it tonight with that 40-yard dash. For people who weren’t here, to get to see two kids like Devon Smith and Caleb Porzel, two of the fastest kids I’ve ever seen in my life race like that and have fun, it is just special. I think we could have charged admission just for that and made a few thousand dollars.
Scout.com: We would have paid admission for that.
O’Connor : Exactly! That is what this is all about, special stuff like that is what this game is all about. Maybe it is not the experience in playing in the game these kids are going to remember. Maybe it’s the practices these kids remember. Maybe it’s seeing their name up on Scout.com these kids remember. These kids are playing in this game and I know they all want to win, but I guarantee you ten to fifteen years from now these kids aren’t going to remember if they won this game, they are going to remember something small that happens out of this. It might be them joking around, it might be putting all these different stickers on their helmets, maybe a nickname that comes out of it, but it is not going to be a play from this game. Hopefully, now when these kids are playing against each other in college, instead of it just being, ‘Hey man you’re from Maryland’, now it can be, ‘Hey man we played with one another in the Crab Bowl, you’re my boy’. These kids are going to build relationships which is crazy, because it shows what sports is, in three days these kids are going to develop a bond together and a respect for one another that probably does not exist without the Crab Bowl.
Scout.com: Give us your quick prediction for the game?
O’Connor: We will see the best football players from one of the best football states in the country playing their butts off. There is going to be a ton of speed out there on that field, hopefully we will have a lot of points scored, some big plays, and this first game will really set the tone for years and years to come.