By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO

After 11 years the Maryland Crab Bowl high school all star football weekend has become one of the nation’s top showcases for talented players that continue to make an impact in college football.  This year’s event is beginning a makeover involving more players than those from the senior class.

For the first time underclassmen – 9th through 11th graders – who are ineligible to compete in the game between D.C. and Baltimore all stars have the opportunity play “position” showcase games.  NCAA rules mandate that high school underclassmen aren’t allowed to compete in all-star games until their eligibility has been completed. However, a new rule allowing them to participate in what are now called showcases presents student-athletes a chance to display their talent at the position they hope to be recruited for potentially in three years.

Maryland Crab Bowl (Courtesy Image/Logo)

“This is a different opportunity that players from the DMV area have never had before,” said former Virginia Tech running back and Crab Bowl founder Tony Kennedy to the AFRO.  “The more opportunities that you have to compete and showcase your talent the better you become as a player.”

The Maryland Crab Bowl weekend is transforming from a one-day game to a four game event.  The all-star game will remain a competitive matchup that forces coaches to adjust a player’s position based on roster spots to fill holes to try and win the game.  These showcases are platforms for players to focus specifically on competing at the one position they feel gives them the best chance at getting a scholarship and allows them to be evaluated consistently prior to their senior year.

Moving forward if a student athlete plays a position such as cornerback as an incoming freshman for his high school team he would be allowed to play the same position during the showcase each year.  If that athlete physically matures to where his body forces a position change – perhaps from cornerback to linebacker – he would then be allowed to compete at that position in the following year’s showcase through his junior year.  Often players are forced to make lineup concessions- meaning they play out of position for the sake of the high school team during the regular season.

“The showcase allows you to play the best position that gives you the chance to be recruited,” Kennedy said.   “Many kids have to play out of position for the sake of their [high school] teams.  This format allows them to be seen and get more practice time at the position the player and family feels suits them best.”

Each underclass team will feature a roster of 44 players who are placed in a draft pool.  Using the format of the NFL’s Pro Bowl, the 264 student athletes will be selected by the coaches of each team to fill their roster for the showcases to create a competitive balance. The Crab Bowl is producing video that will be made available to each player then can be used for personal evaluation, skills development, and for marketing to schools they are interested in as well.

Over 900 alumni from the Maryland Crab Bowl game have played college football around the country since its inception and 50 have played in the NFL.  Tavon Austin of the Dallas Cowboys and Kyle Fuller of the Chicago Bears are among those who are on NFL active rosters currently.

“From one game to four in 10 years means a lot,” said Kennedy.  “This is the kind of maximum exposure that players in other states have been getting for years”.

This year’s games will be played, Dec. 22, at Bowie State’s Bulldog Stadium.