Coming off back-to-back Division III state championships, Steubenville will attempt to become the sixth school to win three consecutive state titles since the current OHSAA playoff format was adopted in 1972.
In the last two years, Steubenville is a perfect 30-0, which is the longest winning streak in school history and ties the Big Red at No. 21 in Ohio high school football history for the longest unbeaten streak.
“I feel that anytime you do anything of that magnitude and after the season is over, you can look back and see it was a great effort by a bunch of people; not just the football team but the boosters, the school and the student body and I think everybody has benefited from it,” Steubenville head coach Reno Saccoccia said. “It was a great climb to the top.”
Steubenville defeated Columbus St. Francis DeSales 28-7 in the 2005 state championship after being knotted with the Stallions 0-0 at halftime. The Big Red topped Kettering Alter 34-33 in a wild 2006 state championship in which they led by as much as three touchdowns.
After raising the trophy in 2005, Saccoccia feels it was more of a challenge defending the championship last year.
“I feel that the entire 2006 season was achieved with a target on our chest and we got everybody’s best shot,” Saccoccia said. “Our kids remained focused but most of all we remained healthy. Those two things were very important to our success. You have to remain healthy and you have to remain focused.”
As Steubenville tries for its third straight state title and fourth in school history, the target on the Big Red is sure to be even bigger – especially with some major changes in the fold.
The road to the championship will be quite different than it has been the past two years. Gone are 21 graduated seniors, including three-year starting QB Zach Collaros, WR Dreylon Pree and RB Tamawi McGhee. But the Big Red will be building upon the success that those players – and the 2006 grads – left behind.
“We have a good nucleus back. But all (2005 and 2006) did was set a solid foundation,” Saccoccia said. “And a foundation is not to be leaned on – it is to be built on. So, we’re going to try and build on that base that we built (the past two years).”
The center of that nucleus includes returning starters WR/DB Steve Davis (5-8, 170, Sr.), TE/DB Anthony Gossett (6-1, 180, Sr.), OL/DL Anthony Radakovich (6-5, 260, Sr.), OL/DE Phil Gilmore (6-0, 190, Sr.), OL/DL Brandyn Frey (6-0, 200, Sr.), FB/LB Mark Markakis (5-9, 170, Sr.), FB/LB Bronko Busic (5-11, 190, Jr.), FB/NG Roland Owens (5-9, 220, Sr.), FB/LB James Montgomery (6-1, 180, Sr.) and RB/DB Anthony Jackson (5-9, 170, Sr.).
“We have experience at certain positions but we are going to have to develop a different way we go about things,” Saccoccia explained. “We had a certain offense that we ran last year that we might not be able to run this year.
But each team, no matter how successful or how many people you have coming back – even pro teams – you have to have chemistry. So, we’re developing chemistry and I think the developing of great team chemistry, great team unity and great team work ethic is more important than any individuals you have coming back. That is what we want to build right now and if we can do that then we’ll be fine. We might not win 15 games but we’ll get the best out of our team.”
After playing 30 games the last two seasons, Saccoccia looks towards the experience gained by the incoming senior group in those 10 extra weeks of football.
“I hope that our seniors are as hard-working leaders as they were sophomore and junior followers,” Saccoccia said. “As a senior class, I just hope they accept that challenge to lead us wherever we’re going.
“I feel our kids are working very hard and our kids know how important it is to prepare to compete. That’s where we’re going right now – preparing to be good competitors and becoming good teammates and everything that high school football is supposed to be, we’re going to make sure we enjoy.”
All eyes will be on the QB position this fall with the departure of Collaros, who will play college football at the University of Cincinnati and will go down as one of the greatest players to dawn a Big Red uniform. Collaros, who earned back-to-back Associated Press Division III Offensive Player of the Year honors, broke every Big Red passing record under center for the Big Red. In his senior campaign, he was 136-of-201 passing for 2,550 yards and 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He also tallied 720 yards on the ground with 15 touchdowns.
His replacement – and others – has yet to be determined.
“We feel right now that you don’t earn your position in the spring but you earn your opportunity in the spring and the winter in the weight room,” Saccoccia said. “All we can do right now is prepare physically for the 2007 football season. So, the kids are trying to earn themselves an opportunity to compete for a position.
“I know the players that have already competed and have been in the wars and dogfights on Friday nights. I know what they have given to their school, so in those terms, they are going to deserve first opportunity for a position.
“I think a lot of coaches want respect and my philosophy is that I am appreciative of the effort our kids give and I try to give them the same respect that I expect from my staff and I,” he added. “Some kids have earned a right to compete and they’ll be given that right to compete.”
A New Challenge On The Horizon
With the customary divisional realignment every two years by the OHSAA based on enrollment figures, Steubenville faces a new challenge in 2007 in addition to the personnel changes. The Big Red will be vying for its third straight state championship as a member of Division IV, Region 13 dropping from Division III.
“You are what you are whether it’s Division III or Division IV,” Saccoccia said. “We won (a state title) in D-II, we won (a state title) in D-III, we got beat in D-II and we got beat in D-III. So, as far as what Division you are in, you are what you are and right now we are in Division IV.
“Now, as far as our competition goes, if you look at any Division, there are key teams in that Division and Division IV is no different than any other as far as key teams. There are certain teams that have a beautiful history that took a lot of years to build and those will be the teams we’ll be competing with. Hopefully we’re able to come up and compete and hopefully we can work a niche in Division IV as we did in Division III.”
One of those key teams with a storied history and tradition, as well as winner of two of the last three Division IV state championships, is Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. Mooney, which also happens to be in the same region as Steubenville this year, is widely considered one of the top teams – if not the top team – in Division IV. The Cardinals boast a roster stacked with players claiming numerous Division I-A college scholarship offers, including RB/LB Brandon Beachum, QB/DB Dan McCarthy (Notre Dame verbal), LB Mike Zordich (Penn State verbal), TB Taylor Hill and OL Jarod Emerson and Johnny Simon among others.
“I think the big thing is the job that (Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko) has done with the program,” Saccoccia said. “They were at the lowest point in Cardinal Mooney history when he took over (in 2000) and he has built them up to achieve as they achieved in the past and even beyond. I think they are going to be a program that is going to be around for a lot of years. To tell you the truth, we’re just proud to be spoken in the same breathe as them. They’re going to be a very competitive football team, they are very well-coached team and we’ll see what happens.”
Should Steubenville and Mooney both qualify and meet in the Region 13 playoffs, it will mark only the fourth time since the playoff format was instituted 1972 that two defending state champions have played each other in the playoffs the following year. In fact, it could happen twice this season with 2006 Division VI state champion Maria Stein Marion Local moving up to Division V. The Flyers will battle defending D-V champ St. Henry in the regular season Midwest Athletic Conference schedule and could potentially meet in the Region 20 playoffs should both qualify.
But with 2006 Division III runner up Kettering Alter joining Steubenville in dropping to Division IV as well, Division IV state runner-up Plain City Jonathan Alder in the mix again, traditional powers Amanda-Clearcreek and Marion Pleasant moving up from Division V and Division IV playoff contenders Canton Central Catholic, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Orrville, Bellaire, Ironton, Martin’s Ferry, and Coldwater among others, Division IV is sure to be a buzz saw in 2007.
“Hopefully we’ll be one of the teeth on the saw,” Saccoccia joked. “But it’s not any different than Division III. The challenges are the same just with different teams. The good programs in Division IV are just taking the place of other good programs that we faced in Division III. The coaching is still going to be competitive and the kids are going to be competitive. That is the key word in high school football – it’s getting your kids to compete. We just hope we’re able to compete at this level just like we we’re able to compete in Division III.
“We have a schedule that we feel we are going to have to be ready to compete every week. Our goal right now is to work our way back up the mountain everyday,” he said. “There is a price to be paid and I hope we have it in us to pay the price everyday. It is a long struggle but it is something worthwhile. Whether we get there or not has yet to be determined, but if hard work is involved then we’ll have an opportunity.”
|8/23/2007||Wintersville Indian Creek||3|
|9/7/2007||@ East Liverpool||3|
|9/14/2007||Buffalo St. Joseph's (N.Y.)||–|
|9/28/2007||Cols. Bishop Watterson||2|
|10/5/2007||@ Baltimore Mount St. Joseph (Md.)||–|
|10/12/2007||@ Wheeling Park (W.Va.)||–|
|10/19/2007||@ Canton Central Catholic||4|
|10/26/2007||Cardinal O'Hara (Pa.)||–|
Steubenville State Championship Game Highlights
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