Big Red honors 1986 team on Legends Night

STEUBENVILLE – They weren’t the biggest, fastest or most talented bunch of seniors to play football for their high school. They did, however, manage to give Reno Saccoccia his third unbeaten regular season.

On Friday at Harding Stadium, the senior members of Big Red’s 1986 team were honored during the 29th-annual Legends Night. The event is sponsored by the school’s boosters club.

Saccoccia’s 1986 club exceeded all expectations by going 10-0 during the reason. The Big Red, unfortunately, drew a powerful Wooster squad in the opening round of the Ohio playoffs and suffered a 21-6 defeat.

“We weren’t one of the greatest teams but we played with a lot of heart,” Jerome Peterson said during the banquet honoring the legends. “We played as a team and we played together.”

Peterson, now a Virginia resident, admitted he has “great memories of the 1986 team.”

“We were a family,” he continued. “Playing football for Big Red taught me to be disciplined and the importance of togetherness. I made so many friends.”

Ron Millanti, who calls Pittsburgh home, echoed Peterson’s comments.

“Before the season started, we were expected to go 6-4 or 5-5,” he pointed out. “We felt like we had something to prove, especially following the 1984 and 1985 teams. So, going 10-0 was quite an accomplishment.

“Wooster had a big team and on the night we played, they were better. But I remember not giving up until the final seconds ticked away. That’s the kind of team we were, we never gave up. We were scrappy. We didn’t have all-stars like classes before us, but we were fighters.”

Millanti noted he is “proud to say he played high school football and even prouder to say I played for Big Red.”

“I still have that never give up attitude,” he stated. “I learned a lot of life lessons-never giving up, teamwork and how to work together. You’re out there sweating and bleeding with your teammates every day and you really become tight.”

Mo Morrison, who coached outside linebackers and tight ends, remembered he predicted the 1986 squad to go 7-3.

“They worked hard and stuck together,” he noted. “We were fairly small but had a pretty good defensive unit and we were strong on special teams. Wooster had a line that averaged like 250 a guy, and that was a tough way to open the playoffs.”

Saccoccia had 17 seniors on the 1986 squad (eight were represented Friday).

“Great kids who worked really hard,” he commented about the unit. “We didn’t score an offensive touchdown from the second half of game eight through the playoff game. But we won three of those four games, so our defense was pretty strong.”

Mark Wilson, now residing in Columbus, offered a different perspective on the Big Red football experience.

“I didn’t play a whole lot but I practiced a lot,” he noted. “I still remember two a day practices during August. It was pretty hot one day and we hadn’t gone out for the first session. Reno had a jukebox in the field house and he played ‘The Heat Is On.’ I thought that was kind of cruel.

“We worked really hard. I have run four half marathons and training for those is a lot easier than any of the two a day practices we had. What I learned from lifting weights in high school has really helped me stay in shape.”

Wilson added “I have a lot of cache saying I played football for Big Red. People in Columbus know about the program and the success Big Red has had over the years.”