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Steubenville High School

Expectations as High as Ever for Saccoccia and Big Red

STEUBENVILLE — Some coaches tend to run and hide from expectations. Reno Saccoccia, Big Red’s Hall of Fame football coach, isn’t one of them.

With a boat load of talent back in the fold, expectations are running high for Saccoccia’s 2022 club, which opens its season Friday against Louisville, one of three new opponents on the schedule.

“I love expectations,” said Saccoccia, who’s entering his 52nd season of coaching and 40th at the helm of the Big Red. “I’d rather people expect us to be a winner year in and year out than be a loser.

“The one thing to remember is nobody’s expectations are greater than ours. They may think that because they don’t have to achieve the expectations. But our players have to do it. It’s easy to have expectations if you don’t have to achieve them. Our guys have the same expectations and they have to achieve them–that makes for a tough road to hoe.”

Big Red went 9-3 in 2021 and reached the Ohio high school post-season for the 21st consecutive year. The campaign ended with a heart-breaking 49-42 loss to Kenston in the quarterfinals of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs.

When Big Red took down Tallmadge in its playoff opener, Saccoccia tied Jim France, who coached at Akron Coventry and Akron Manchester, as the winningest coach in Ohio high school football history with 401 victories.

Gone from that squad via graduation are the likes of Inky Jones, who now is a member of The Ohio State University football squad as a preferred walk-on, Rodney James, Niko Suriano, Brandon Kinney, Kye Fleming, Peyton Tuttle, Jaylin Harris, Greg Mamula, Jaylin Gary and Blaze Wile.

The 2022 roster features 19 seniors, many of whom have been regulars for several seasons.

“What I see right now is this–great attitudes and most of the negative things we are doing can be fixed,” Saccoccia said. “There are just great attitudes all the way around.

“The attitudes are great and the effort is there without question. The mistakes we are making can be fixed. We need to continue working hard and focus on getting better each and every day.”

Offensively, Big Red finished 2021 with 3,104 (259 per game) rushing yards and 1,978 (165 an outing) through the air. Steubenville averaged 33 points a contest.

Phaeton Hill returns for his second year as Saccoccia’s starting quarterback. As a junior, he completed 120 of his 229 passing attempts for 1,979 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Hill’s yardage total is the seventh best in program history and his 120 completions are eighth best in that category. The 17 scoring tosses rank as 10th best.

Hill was a first team all-Eastern District Division III selection.

Juniors Ayden Manning and Sabron Felton are the other quarterbacks on the roster.

Senior Spencer Ostovich, another Eastern District honoree, led the Big Red in rushing a season ago, going for 1,140 yards on 165 trips (an average per carry of 6.9 yards. He found the end zone 15 times. He became the featured back after James’ senior campaign was cut short by injuries.

Gavin Bozica, now a senior, contributed 398 yards while junior Elijah Mullins, who earned carries from the fullback and tailback spots, added 384. Savier Faulks saw action in seven games and ran for 369 yards as a sophomore.

Senior Tylik Sims, senior Jordan West, sophomore Jalen Minniefield and sophomore Kyleigh Hopkins also are battling for carries at running back.

Fullback hopefuls are senior Kyjhaun Hopkins, senior Zach Smith, sophomore Kail Simmons, sophomore Zotique Douglas and senior Aliquan Harris.

Despite losing Jones, Big Red’s top receiver in 2021, the wide receiver cupboard is anything but bare.

Junior Isaac Hill had 15 receptions, good for 317 yards and a pair of six-pointers. He played in just five games as a sophomore due to an injury and averaged 21.1 yards a reception.

Senior Ty Pierce hauled in nine passes while fellow senior Hakim Edwards finished with eight.

Senior Ivan Buggs and junior Lee Anthony Sewell finished 2021 with seven catches each. Sims had 12 receptions out of the backfield.

Depth at the receiver spot will come from seniors Micah Mitchell and Eric Williams, juniors Keith Lewis, Lawson Lewis and Carlo Schiappa along with sophomores Brody Saccoccia, Nick Mollette, Jaden Smith, Michael Casinelli and Maddox Gulan.

Vying for time at tight end are junior Jace Kernahan (five catches for 66 yards and a score as a sophomore), senior Cooper Blackburn, senior Dorian Thorn, sophomore Mason Marchbank and sophomore Malcom Silar.

Senior Cam Daley, a first team all-district selection as a junior, returns to the offensive line. He’s joined there by fellow seniors Cade Montgomery, Kellen Marshall and Bryce Huff. Junior line candidates are Peyton Gorby, Demetrius Leas, Santonio Brown, Javin Harper and Antonio Dawson.

Montgomery, Marshall, Huff and Gorby all saw considerable action a season ago.

Sophomores seeking time up front include Chandler Hoffman, Evan Liggett, Noah West, Logan Lynch, Jordan Ribar, Myles Cooper, Colin Miller, Ben Burgey, Daniel Irizzary and Camron Corona.

Sophomore Hayden Hicks and freshman Cole Bowers are listed as kickers on the roster.

Ostovich will man a defensive end spot for a third season and will be joined there by Harris, Kernahan, I. Hill, Bozica, Hoffman, N. West, Montgomery and Lynch.

Thorn and Gorby were regulars on the D line in 2021. Others battling for time include Liggett, Leas, Cooper, Miller, Brown, Burgey, Marshall, Irizzary, Corona, Daley, Harper, Dawson, Huff and Silar.

Sims was a second team all-district selection at inside linebacker as a junior. Kyjhaun Hopkins also is a returning starter in the middle.

Mullins saw plenty of action at linebacker also. Others looking to contribute are Simmons, Minniefield, who also could see time at corner, Kyleigh Hopkins, Douglas, Blackburn, Williams and Ribar.

Edwards, Felton, Faulks, Casinelli and Marchbank are listed as candidates for duty at outside linebacker.

Vying for time in the defensive backfield are Buggs, P. Hill, Saccoccia Mitchell, Sewell, Manning, Z. Smith, Pierce, Jordan West, K. Lewis, L. Lewis, Mollette, J. Smith, Gulan, Schiappa and Bowers.

When asked about the returning talent, Saccoccia quickly said “that’s not something we really bank on.”

“Some guys with experience can come back and be complacent,” he said. “Then there are those guys who didn’t play a lot last year and they are really motivated to get on the field.

“It’s our job as coaches to get everyone on the same page. We have to get everyone working hard day in and day out and get them focused on the same goal.”

Based on changes in the Ohio playoff system, Saccoccia noted he had to do a little altering to his annual goal for the Big Red.

“Our goal used to involve qualifying for the playoffs and earning a home game,” he said. “Now that the playoffs have expanded our goal has changed.

“We want to finish high enough to have home games and win the region. Those are goals right now.”

When the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced division assignments for 2022, Big Red moved from Division III, Region 9 to Division IV, Region 15. The move, according to the OHSAA, was based on competitive balance numbers.

“We have won state championships in Division II, III and IV and we’ve lost championships in those divisions also,” Saccoccia said. “Ohio high school football is great in all divisions. Whenever you think you are better than the guys in your division, that’s when you are going to get knocked off.

“What division we are in really does not matter. What matters is the attitude and the effort our guys are willing to put forth in order for our program to achieve its goal.”

As mentioned, Big Red will open its season against a first-time opponent in Louisville. Other new foes are Archbishop Carroll from Washington, D.C. and Rock Creek, Md. Christian Academy. The game with Archbishop Carroll will kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept.3 inside

Harding Stadium.

“We have a great schedule,” Saccoccia said. “We start off with Louisville which has a great tradition then go to New Philadelphia. We haven’t done well against them the last couple of years. Archbishop Carroll is 43-3 in its last 4 games.

“With a program like Dover, you have to work your butt off just to compete against them and Wheeling Park is a great team with a great program and a great coaching staff. Linsly is the most improved team we play at any time. We finish up with Mooney and the Maryland school.

“It is a schedule that we will have to grind our way through but our guys are hard workers and they are willing to grind.”

As he prepares for his 52nd season, Saccoccia was quick to point out his competitive fires are still burning.

“If they weren’t–I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Saccoccia again will be working with a veteran and talented coaching staff which includes Gus DiMarzio, Dan Filtz, Jason Kernahan, Todd Filtz, Ian Whittington, Jo Jo Saccoccia, John Arlesic, Anthony Saccoccia and Brenton Colabella.

Alijah Demitras, a starter on Big Red’s 2017 Division IV championship team, is the lone newcomer to the staff. Demitras, who went on to play at Walsh University, will be working with the offensive and defensive lines.

When asked what he’s looking for from his 2022 squad, Saccoccia simply said:

“Be on time, work hard and trust the coaching staff. Trust your execution and finish. Those are the main things we are looking for. Those things will lead to great things.”