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Saccoccia, Big Red Playing Waiting Game

STEUBENVILLE — Football is a way of life in the Ohio Valley.

It’s held in an even higher regard in Steubenville.

Tradition-laden Steubeville High School, which owns four state championships, five runner-ups and 18 regional championships since 1984, has prepared all summer for what it hopes will be yet another season under the ‘Friday Night Lights.”

Unfortunately, beyond the normal summer preparation, not much else in today’s world can be deemed ‘normal’ because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the official start of fall sports practices slated for Saturday around the Buckeye State, more than 700 football teams are awaiting word from Gov. Mike DeWine and his office as to whether or not the season will commence as normal.

Football has yet to be cleared, as a contact sport, to do very little beyond conditioning.

Trying to keep things as close to normal as possible, Steubenville held Media Day festivities Monday at Harding Stadium as head coach Reno Saccoccia gets set for his 50th season of football coaching.

“If you’re a coach, and you have a good team with players who work and think the same way you do, you just adjust as whatever is thrown at you,” Saccoccia said. “We’ve talked to our players about continuing to work hard and we’ll adjust to whatever we have to in terms of the schedule and we’ll play it.”

Anxious football coaches, players and fans have been waiting with bated breath each time DeWine holds one of his coronavirus media briefings to see if any news comes out that says “yay” or “nay” to the season, which for Big Red is slated to begin Thursday, Aug. 27 against Allderdice from Pittsburgh.

Saccoccia hasn’t been one of those listening to every word the governor says.

“We’ll get the word from him whenever he announces it, and I think the governor is doing a good job,” Saccoccia said. “His helpers are doing a good job and if there is any way we can play, I am sure he’ll let us.”

Saccoccia, who is the area’s representative in the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, was highly complimentary of the nearly 40-page proposal that the group submitted to DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and the OHSAA.

The proposal mapped out changes that could be made within practices, games and even in crowd control to promote a socially distanced and safe environment.

“I love the proposal,” Saccoccia said. “The Ohio High School Football Coaches are all out to play in the fall and we’re trying everything we can to play in the fall. If something happens, we will adjust, but right now, we’re planning to play in the fall and have a great season.”

Some of the examples contained included socially distancing in the locker room, on the sideline, coaches wearing masks during the game, no handshakes after the game, shortening halftime, limiting the number of players who travel to road games, sanitizing all equipment consistently, etc.

It was announced late Sunday afternoon that Lt. Gov. Husted will hold a conference call with the members of the OHSFCA to discuss the proposal and the prospects of football moving forward on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

That call is expected to go a long way in determining the fate of a season that’s scheduled to kick off Aug. 27.

“My gut feeling is we’re playing a full season,” Saccoccia said. “My gut feeling is we’ll play three scrimmages, 10 regular-season games and five playoff games. We’re ready to go.”

As for Saccoccia, he and his team will be on the field working out this week and then formally begin their two-a-days on Monday.

When the OHSAA’s no-contact period was lifted in late May, Steubenville hit the ground running and was on the field to begin phase one of its return almost immediately.

“We weren’t just sitting around (during the spring),” Saccoccia admitted. “We had a good coronavirus session and worked hard during it. We worked in a different way, but we worked hard.”

Saccoccia, who is the Ohio Valley’s longest-tenured head coach on the Ohio side as he prepares for his 50th season in high school football coaching, is 71 years old. He’s clearly in the “vulnerable” age group for coronavirus.

However, that doesn’t worry or bother Saccoccia.

“I am sure there are a lot of people who hope I catch coronavirus,” Saccoccia said.

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