Scout.com: What is the reason for putting this game together?
Harmon: We put it together because there is no state All-Star game. Primarily because some of the better kids in Maryland don’t have an opportunity to play in an All-Star game because they play in good programs that have the State Championships during most of the All-Star week. The Dunbar’s (Baltimore) and the River Hill’s and some of the better schools out there now have a chance to play in an All-Star game so we wanted to provide every player an opportunity, if good enough, to be in an All-Star game. We wanted a showcase for the top 90 kids and we are very fortunate that most of those kids are in this game.
Scout.com: One thing that stands out immediately is the collection of coaches and of course the players. First tell us about the selection process for the coaches.
Harmon: We had to be strategic. We wanted coaches that had a lot of energy, desire and who really cared about what is going on in the state of Maryland and who were connected. For the DC area coach Dave Mencarini (Quince Orchard HS) won a State Championship was undefeated in 2007, had four blue chip players coming back as well so you hope they play in the game as well. Coming from Montgomery County he got some great coaches down here guys like Fred Kim (Seneca Valley HS), Eric Wallich (Damascus HS) and now Mike Nesmith (Paint Branch HS) and some of his own staff too. Plus he got some great coaches from the SMAC conference as well as Tom Green (Eleanor Roosevelt HS) and Nick Lynch (Suitland HS) from Prince Georges County. So he has a who’s who of coaches who have won State Championships or been to State Championships. Guys who have coached big time players so they are not in awe of some of the talented players like Jelani Jenkins, Jason Ankrah and Travis Hawkins. Coach Mencarini has coached two of those guys every day so it is no big deal for these coaches and that is what we wanted. Coaches with a good staff that are organized and understood what we are trying to do and believed in what we are doing. On the Baltimore side it’s like that as well with coach Lawrence Smith (Dunbar HS, Baltimore). Having Tavon Austin, Sean Farr, Tevin Brown and Horace Miller and other players being recruited he understands the process and knows how important it is because Ben Eaton was his predecessor before he passed away last year and he understood that. I used to do camps with Ben Eaton and he used to say Chuck “we need to do a state All-Star game”. We thought if we are ever going to do it this is the year because there is more talent in the state of Maryland this year than ever before. There have always been quality players but not the quantity like this year. If we couldn’t do it this year it was never going to happen.
Scout.com: The talent of the players here is very impressive. What was the selection process for the players?
Harmon: Sean O’Connor and I selected the players because we wanted to take it out of the coach’s hands. When you deal with coaches as I have coaching myself for over 14 years there is politics involved. We didn’t want any politics involved. We wanted the right kids here and for the right reasons. We didn’t just want good players but good kids as well, student-athletes that were good role models in the community and had a sense of pride about the state of Maryland. Every one of these kids, and you have seen it, the camaraderie the kids have they are fired up to be in this game. So Sean and I looked around, talked with many coaches, watched a lot of film, watched combine stuff and narrowed it down to the best 200 players we could find. We slotted positions and sent out 84 invitations on August 1st. Our goal was to hear back by September 1st and so we announced the first 84 players. We sent them certificates and asked that they respond in or out. Out of 84, 82 said they were in. We were amazed by that. A couple players didn’t respond and since a couple had to drop out due to injury, but we have the kids we wanted. There are a couple kids we would have liked to have that decided not to play, but the kids that we have here have the opportunity of someone else. It’s always unfortunate when a player gets hurt but the talent was so deep we could get another great player and give him a chance for a scholarship that he may not have otherwise. Sean and I always said from the beginning that if we could get five to seven kids a chance to play college football and at least an offer of a scholarship then it is all worth it. I really believe that will happen this year. You can see the excitement with the college coaches that have been out here and I really believe that there will be players that they will get offers from just being in this game. It would really be phenomenal if that happened and we know we did our jobs.
Scout.com: Many of these athletes are already committed to colleges, but you also have many players under the radar a bit so what does it mean for these players to go up against, not only the best players in the area but some of the best in the nation?
Harmon: It means everything. The uncommitted players here it means the world to them. Jelani Jenkins and Tavon Austin can go anywhere they have their offers. We have 30-35 kids in this game that like certain schools but they are on the watch or wait list. Players in situations with schools that if 18 players ahead of them don’t commit, than they are their guy. Guys that may be a little too short maybe don’t run the forty as fast or haven’t been to combines. There are players out here where you say “wow, who is that kid, I never heard of that kid”. We have a player out here, Gary Fortune (Wide Receiver/Cornerback, Lackey HS). He wasn’t even on our 250 player list. He was MVP of the SMAC conference, is first team “All-Metro” and no one even knew who this kid is. Even his own coach didn’t nominate him for the Crab Bowl. We asked coach “who is this kid” and coach said he came out of nowhere. We have about 14 of those type kids out here and they are turning heads. They may be from a small school or just a six foot, two-hundred and sixty-five pound lineman that doesn’t have the measurables but they have the heart, desire and ability.
Scout.com: The big time players are here with a pride and purpose. They have their scholarships but are playing and hitting all out. What does it mean to you, Sean and the others that have put this together to see the big time players giving it their all as well?
Harmon: Just seeing that hit that Jelani (Jenkins) put on Caleb Porzel (Running back, Maryland) last night tells you they are playing for keeps. They don’t have to do it they could go through the motions. Jelani is about to play in a huge All-Star game (Under Armour) he could say let me play a couple series and then let someone else play. But he will be out here 100-percent helping his team win. If it’s a close game you can bet he will be in there in the fourth quarter. That’s the kind of players we have and want out here. With all the fanfare and popularity of the players and seeing them at the media day is nothing until you see them out here stretching, warming up and playing. Seeing them in Crab Bowl uniforms, seeing the fans, coaches and media all out here you realize wow this is actually happening. You say there are Jelani Jenkins, Tavon Austin and Jason Ankrah. You say look at that line out there, you say there is Devon Smith over there, the fastest player in the U.S. last year, in our game. It is almost surreal waking up each morning and reading about your game on the internet on a Scout.com. Its “wow” and this is year one. We have worked hard but it is about the talent we have here. We believe in the talent here in Maryland. What the players have done this year will mean something to the players coming up. If it is good enough for Jenkins and Austin it is good enough for me. These players mean so much to us. I will never forget any of these kids and what they are doing for this game and paving the way for future players. We can improve on some things but not the talent we have this year.
Scout.com: The Junior Crab Bowl, tell me about the decision to have this game.
Harmon: We have the runner-up and the champions from pop warner playing in the game. It will be a rematch from last year. We have a team all the way from Tustin, California here to play. These kids are so good, so well coached its amazing. White Oak (Maryland) just came back from winning their second straight championship this past weekend down at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Let me tell you, Tustin wants a rematch. They lost a very close game last time. We are amazed they have flown across county to play this game during the holiday season and bring a hundred strong out here to Maryland. That tells you something about their desire to be here. It was a great experience to have them at Media Day and see them interacting with the Crab Bowl players. For White Oak as well, to see these Maryland players and know they could be here themselves in a few years and what it means to the current players. This is where they can aspire to be. Sean and I have supported youth football for a long time and it’s not only good for the kids but its good for the coaches because now they can recruit. These kids are used to great venues and have played in big games. For youth and rec teams of Maryland they can see this game and say maybe if we win we will get here as well. We will alternate teams in the future and give other teams from across the country a chance to come here and be part of the Junior Crab Bowl. We will always have a Maryland team of course, but then we will find a team that has done well for a period of time and invite them here as well. I am as excited about the Junior Crab Bowl as I am the big game just because of the excitement of the kids to be here. I am looking forward to it and I hope others are as well.
Scout.com: Who helped pull this entire event off? You mentioned Sean. Who are the other partners or sponsors that have helped put this all together?
Harmon: Well, first we don’t have any sponsors. We have partners. Sean and I basically did the lion’s share financially. We had some friends of ours that helped a lot getting things going. John Vassos helped us immeasurably just getting contacts and arranging the Junior Crab Bowl and introducing us to people, it was unbelievable what he did. Another, Lauren Lawn, she was very instrumental helping us financially with nothing in return. She just wanted to help make it happen. They don’t want the recognition but we must thank them and what they have done because without them this would not be where it is, we may have got it done but not they way it is and we are very thankful for them. Let me also thank the University of Maryland for their assistance and for this wonderful facility to practice at and having our Media day here. It really added a lot to this Crab Bowl. I think it is a thrill to be here and I thank Coach Friedgen and his staff for allowing us to be here. It was very nice of him to do so.
Scout.com: Towson University, Johnny Unitas Stadium is the site of the game, what made you decide that was the place for the Crab Bowl?
Harmon: Well first it is my alma mater. We wanted a big venue but not too big. Byrd Stadium University of Maryland is way too big, maybe by year five, but historically All-Star games in this area has not drawn too well so we had to be realistic. We needed something under ten thousand seats, we needed good sight lines, a place the players felt comfortable but also in December with the weather possibilities we don’t want to tear their field up. So we needed a turf field. With the parking and location Towson University was the place for us. They have been wonderful to work with and they have great facilities, just upgrading their football facilities as a matter of fact, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be there. Getting this game going is the thing. I won’t judge the success by the fans in the stadium. I hope it’s full of course, but getting the staff and players is most important. Then the people will come. Hopefully we are back next year and open the other side of the stadium and get 15,000 fans in there. I think we can get there, I really do. When people see this game and the talent people will say this is a great event with talented football players. Maryland has never had a group like this together. Honestly there could be five to ten players on these two fields tonight that will be playing on Sundays, I really believe that. You have two of the fastest players (Devon Smith, Caleb Porzel) in the nation racing out her in our “Fastest Man” competition. It is incredible two players can run that fast in pads. The speed in this game is tremendous. We are happy people have taken an interest in the game like you guys from Scout.com and will prove to the country Maryland is not a joke. Maryland is a serious team with great coaches and are as good as anywhere, it is just a small state. There are athletes here we are going to show the country and after the game people are going to know what we are about.
Scout.com: There has already been very strong positive feedback about the experience these kids and coaches are having just after three days. What does it mean to you to hear that?
Harmon: It’s great. We have learned a lot already. Neither Sean nor I have ever run a game before. We are both coaches but we are also business men. I been a sportscaster for years and have had my own internet radio network. We do know marketing though and feel we can do that well. We can get the game out there but running a game of this magnitude is very difficult. Sean and I made a decision to do this first class or not do it at all. Hopefully we did our jobs and met our goals. It is nice to know people think that we have and it motivates us to do even better next year.
Scout.com: Any prediction for the game?
Harmon: As a man of the people (laughing)…seriously, let me say that the D.C. Team should win but I know Baltimore will surprise. I think they are going to shock everyone.