Tradition Never Graduates at Big Red
By ED LOOMAN
STEUBENVILLE–As veteran coach Reno Saccoccia likes to say– year in and year out, “kids graduate. One thing, however, that never graduates is tradition.”
Saccoccia and his 2017 Steubenville squad will be looking to “add to the tradition of Big Red football when it opens its season Friday against visiting Upper St. Clair, Pa.
“Something we are proud of here is our tradition,” Saccoccia, who is entering his 34th season as coach, said. “Our goal each year is to add to the tradition. Right now, we’re part of the tradition but it’s very important for us to work hard, improve every day and add to that great tradition.”
Big Red’s football tradition includes the following:
∫ 29 total playoff appearances
∫ 16 consecutive trips to the post-season
∫ An all-time playoff record of 61-26
∫ Four straight Division IV Region 13 championships
∫ Back-to-back appearances in the D IV title game
Steubenville fell just short of claiming its fourth state championship when it lost to Columbus Bishop Hartley 24-21 on a field goal as time expired in 2016. A year earlier, the Hawks handed Big Red a 31-28 defeat in the D IV finale.
“As a team, last season is in the rear-view mirror,” Saccoccia stated. “As individuals, however, you don’t forget seasons like we had in 2015 and 2016. For some of us, it definitely is a motivator to go a step further.
“For others, it puts a focus on developing team chemistry, unity and work ethic. That’s something we’ll worry about later. Right now, our goal is just developing this team.”
When he looks at his 2017 club, Saccoccia likes what he sees. He cautions, however, that “we’re not very deep.”
“One of the main goals of two-a-days is to develop depth,” he said. “At this point, we’re not sure what type of team we’re going to be this year. Every team develops its own identify over time. We have to get a feel for that as coaches.
‘We’re not sure yet what the strength of this team is. Our main goal is to develop depth and develop chemistry between the team and the coaching staff.”
Offensively, Big Red lost plenty of weapons but several key pieces return from the 2016 unit, which averaged 36.3 points per game, return.
Javon Davis, who passed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, is back at quarterback.
“He worked hard in the off-season and has shown his leadership ability,” Saccoccia said of his senior signal caller.
Senior Johnny Agresta also saw some time at quarterback last season and could possibly spell Davis. Junior Clayton Criss and sophomore Randy Mitchell provide depth.
Jacob Bernard, the team’s leading rusher (1,364 yards) returns back at tailback. An injury suffered in the state semifinal victory over Perry kept Bernard out of the 2016 title game.
Senior Jamal Petteway compiled 324 rushing yards from the tailback spot last season.
Others looking for an opportunity to carry the ball are juniors Caleb Mitchell, Dumaka McGhee, Jeziah Blackwell, Taveon Montgomery and Anthony Rice. Sophomore JoJo Brown also is among the tailback candidates.
Also listed in Big Red’s stable of running backs are senior Desmond Smith, juniors Nicco Bracone, Antoni Demitras and Eric Lulla along with sophomore Tayveon Crawford.
Seniors Lucas Koval and Jonathon Blackmon are candidates at fullback along with junior Ty Arlesic and sophomore David Tuttle.
Back at wide receiver is Alec Taylor, one of Davis’ favorites for the long ball. Taylor, who recently gave a verbal commitment to attend Ohio State and play baseball, had 377 receiving yards as a junior. Seniors Dujuan Jones, Gino Pierro and Abe Zane also return. Agresta also will see action here.
Juniors vying for time at wide receiver are Ryan Rauch and Jorian Jones. Sophomores Preston Haney, Tanner Power, Noah Horvath, Stone Biacco, Deonbre Anderson, Draven Martinau and James Still add depth.
Kwadre Williams, a junior who saw considerable action on the defensive side of the ball as a sophomore, is one tight end candidate. Arlesic and Lulla also are getting looks here. Juniors Dylan Cunningham, James Roundtree IV, Freedom Harper and Joe Gabrielli are competing for the spot along with sophomores Brayden Pearce and Johnny Nodianos.
Seniors Tyler Ely (6-4, 285) and Alijah Demitras (6-2, 250) were starters on the offensive line in last season’s state championship game. Reuben Saxon, also a senior, returns after missing most of 2016 with an injury. Saxon goes 6-0, 260.
Zach Ekey, a 6-4, 285 senior, will see time at tackle while seniors Quentin Moore (6-2, 235) and Marlon Lawrence (6-2, 290) also are back.
“I think the last time we had a big team like this probably was 1987,” Saccoccia said. “We have a lot of big kids but we also have a lot of big kids who haven’t earned a position on the team yet. Honestly, I don’t think about size when I’m working on developing a team. The size of a player really doesn’t fit into my planning yet.
“The biggest part of a team is the heart. I feel that aspect of athletics and competing will never change. The person with the most desire, the most heart, and the most want is going to work the hardest to get where he wants to be. Physical size really doesn’t have much to do with that.”
Other seniors looking for playing time along the offensive front are Devin Evans, Jordan Viers and Richard Lawrence. Senior Ryan Neely, who transferred from Catholic Central, will join the mix once he becomes eligible in Week 6.
Junior linemen include Cameron Boley, Blaine Cook, Donavin Thornton, Elijah Simon, Cesare Jennings, Keonte Holmes and Caleb Brown.
Ten sophomores will provide depth along the line. They are Terrance Norris, Anthony Boley, Keith Bednar, Leroy Fordham, Ethan Waugh, Kaisean Wilson, Brad Valentine, Amari Brown, Ryan Burger and Emanual Ware.
Defensively, Moore, Evans, Saxon, Demitras, M. Lawrence, R. Lawrence, Ely, Ekey, Viers and Smith are the senior candidates for playing time along the line. Neely also will compete for a spot. Juniors include Williams, Arlesic, Roundtree, Gabrielli, C. Boley, Cook, Thornton, Simon, Jennings, Holmes and C. Brown.
Sophomore candidates are Pearce, Norris, A. Boley, Bodnar, Fordham, Waugh, Wilson, Valentine, A. Brown, Burger, Ware and Nodianos.
Seniors competing for playing time at linebacker include Agresta, Bernard, Koval and Blackmon. Juniors are A. Demitras, Mitchell, McGhee, Blackwell, Arlesic and Lulla. Sophomores listed are J. Brown and Tuttle.
D. Jones, Pierro, Davis, Taylor, Zane and Petteway are the seniors likely to see time in the defensive secondary. Junior candidates include Criss, Rauch, J. Jones, Bracone, Montgomery, Rice, Cunningham and Harper. Mitchell, Haney, Crawford, Power, Horvath, Biacco, Anderson, Martinau and Still are the sophomore defensive backs.
Junior Ian Phillips looks to handle the bulk of the kicking duties for Big Red.
Saccoccia likes the skill level his roster of 69 boasts, but…
“The very first thing I said to this team was ‘if we have to coach effort, we might as well not be here,'” he stated. “We can coach technique, teach plays and coach defensive schemes. We don’t mind mistakes because that’s why we’re here.
“To be successful, players have to have effort, want and desire. If we are coaching that, then we are in the wrong business.”