Commentary

Saccoccia leads Steubenville to 700

Originally Published: November 6, 2008
By Doug Huff | ESPNRISE.com

Steubenville (Ohio) High may be best-known, nationally, as the school which produced actor-singer Dean Martin, oddsmaker Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder and former college football Outland Trophy winner Calvin Jones.

But current Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia might be hard to beat if any popularity poll was taken among alumni and athletic boosters of the tradition-laden school.

Saccoccia is in his 26th season as the head coach of the football power which recently joined famed Massillon Washington and Canton McKinley as the only Ohio schools with 700 all-time victories.

"The 700 wins take in a lot of people," Saccoccia said. "We've had over 1,970 kids that have played football for Big Red and you can find the names of every one in a special place in our locker room."

Since 1983, Saccoccia has guided Big Red to a sterling 268-46 record and recently completed the sixth straight unbeaten regular season for a 60-game streak, one of the longest active marks in the nation. In 2006, the Steubenville Board of Education named the home Harding Stadium field in his honor -- "Reno Field."

Big Red has recorded 18 unbeaten regular seasons in 109 years of football with Saccoccia at the helm for 12 of those perfectos.

"It's a great accomplishment," Saccoccia says, "but it's not something you celebrate while the season is going on."

Yes, extended post-season play has become the norm and not the exception for the school located on the Ohio River about 50 miles from Pittsburgh.

Saccoccia has coached 19 Ohio playoff teams, including the last eight years, with five advancing to the state finals. Ohio playoff championships have been won in 1984, 2005 and 2006.

And the current Big Red team would like to add more hardware to the school trophy case as it prepares for the second round of the Division IV playoffs this weekend against perennial contender Cardinal Mooney of Youngstown. The Cardinals are the school which ended Steubenville's bid last season for a third straight state crown and a 42-game overall win streak. At the time, Mooney was ranked nationally in the FAB 50 but was upended in the title game by Coldwater.

"If you want to win in Division IV," Saccoccia opines, "you have to go through Coldwater and Mooney. They are the teams to beat until someone proves otherwise."

With a roster that includes only 19 seniors, the underclass-dominated Big Red team may have over-achieved this season at a program that seemingly reloads rather than rebuilds its talent base each year.

Junior quarterback Dwight Macon is a two-year regular who is a threat as a passer or runner. In last week's 62-29 first round playoff victory over Coshocton, Macon was a perfect 12-for-12 passing for 192 yards and four touchdowns.

The top senior is linebacker-fullback Branko Busick, who has committed to West Virginia University.

While Big Red has recorded remarkable team success on the high school level, the school hasn't produced numerous major college recruits but has sent several to in-state or Mid-America Conference schools. The current backup quarterback at the University of Cincinnati is sophomore Zach Collaros, a three-sport Big Red standout who led the back-to-back Big Red state championship teams in 2005-2006.

"Football in Steubenville has been special for a lot of years because of the kids, the parents, the coaching staff, the boosters and the school administrators," Saccoccia has said.

He left out a head coach who sure knows the meaning of success as well.

The Stuff

National coach of the week
They're called Zig's Pigs, but don't misunderstand. Coach Phil Ziglar is the one who gives his linemen that name because he knows, after 18 years at Boone High in Orlando, Florida, that the key to a successful season are those unsung but hard-working fellows up front.

Following a 14-1 season last year, in which the Braves lost in the Florida 6A title game to heavily favored Miami Northwestern, Ziglar's team is at it again, rolling unbeaten through the first eight games of the season. His team has allowed just 43 points -- two more than they gave up to Northwestern last year -- heading into a key contest Friday night at Dr. Phillips (7-1). The most points Boone has allowed is nine.

The Braves are coming off a 35-7 victory over Freedom (Orlando) but expect a tougher game against Dr. Phillips, a team they beat twice last year -- 14-13 and 17-10. Ziglar will be facing Dale Sapala, who was just named by his peers as the District 5 Coach of the Year.

Doug Huff is a senior editor of ESPN RISE and is a member of the National Federation Hall of Fame. He has been compiling national and regional rankings in multiple sports since 1987 and is credited as the founder of the national record book. Mark Tennis and Steve Brand also contributed to this column.