Big Red honors players at banquet

STEUBENVILLE – Reno Saccoccia praised Big Red’s seniors and issued a challenge to his underclassmen during the school’s 73rd annual football banquet held Sunday in the Crimson Commons.

“You were sitting at 5-4 and wondering what if that all hard work and sacrifice was worth it,” Saccoccia said to the 12th graders. “You didn’t give up, you didn’t quit and you kept fighting.

“RCA (Renaissance Christian Academy) went down 27-14 and Maysville beat Claymont. We were in the playoffs as the eighth seed. God bless you all, you were the 2013 regional champions.”

When discussing the seniors, Saccoccia admitted “I’m really going to miss them.”

“When you walk into the field house next year through the door by the training room, there will be a big 13 on the wall,” he continued. “That will remind us all of this year and what it means not to quit.”

The 2013 Big Red finished the regular season at 6-4 and earned the school’s 13th consecutive trip to the post-season. Saccoccia’s eighth-seeded crew knocked off Newark Licking Valley, the top seed, in the opening round before eliminating Maysville. The regional championship, Big Red’s 14th, came via 17-14 victory over Indian Valley.

That win was Big Red’s 50th in the Ohio playoffs. The Red lost in the Division IV semifinals to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, finishing at 9-5.

Saccoccia told his underclassmen (Big Red will have 24 returning lettermen in 2014) they will have the “opportunity to do more.”

“You can take us further,” he stated. “How far is up to you and your teammates. Anyone can be good but to be great takes work. Championships come from heart and soul, preparation and passion. Let’s start today and finish next year in the finals.

“What a season! We went from 4-0 to 5-4 to earning the eighth seed to winning a regional championship. The seniors who provided leadership are finished at players. You now have the opportunity to do more.”

Eight awards were handed out during the event.

Bryan Pierro earned the MVP award, which is voted on by players and coaches. During his senior season, he recorded 93 tackles and two interceptions as a defensive back. He led the Big Red in receiving with 30 catches and also returned 13 kickoffs. Pierro recently earned all-Ohio Division IV first team honors.

Other award winners were:

Drs. Press/Macedonia/Giannamore Award (designed to honor performances both on the field and in the classroom): Cody Saltsman, who boasts a 3.95 GPA. The senior linebacker/wide receiver suffered a severe shoulder injury in Week 8. He had 27 tackles and 14 receptions. Saccoccia added Dr. Michael Giannamore to the award during Sunday’s banquet, sponsored by the Big Red Boosters Club.

Calvin Jones Award: Chris Starliper. The award honors a Big Red lineman for great play on both sides of the football. Starlipper, the 53rd recipient, had 28 tackles, including 10 against Salesianum. He also started on the offensive line. Starlipper received his award from Patty West, Jones’ niece.

Dan Keenan Leadership Award: Pierro. Saccoccia noted is on course to be Big Red’s second first team all-stater and class valedictorian. The first was Charlie Keenan, a member of the 1984 Ohio championship team. Pierro carries a 4.0 GPA.

Abe Bryan/Punque Cartledge Award: Kai McClurg and Arin Goldsmith. This award is voted on by the Big Red coaching staff. McClurg, the team’s middle linebacker, set a school record for tackles during a single season with 129. Goldsmith had 40 from his defensive line spot.

Legends of Big Red Student/Athlete Award: Robert Hayden. Hampered by injuries during most of the season, Hayden did contribute 52 tackles as a linebacker and 335 rushing yards as a tailback. He also scored seven touchdowns.

Big Red Hustle Award: Jaylin Williams. The senior had an outstanding year as an offensive tackle and defensive end.

Special Teams Awards: Pierro and John Paul Duff. In his only season of football, Duff nailed four of five field goal attempts.

Saccoccia thanked the Big Red boosters and fans for “sticking with us.”

“We really appreciate the year you gave us as fans,” he commented.

The veteran Big Red leader offered a special thanks to his coaching staff.

“The coaching has a lot of pressure on them this season and I want to thank them for being so mentally tough and for being able to keep doing what they do,” he stated. “Mental toughness is important when it comes to coaching especially when you are responsible for a program like ours.”

Saccoccia also saluted his team for an outstanding performance in the classroom. In addition to Pierro and Saltsman, 32 other players have a GPA of 3.0 or better. Starliper carries a 3.85 grade point average.

Kelly Lancia, the Big Red cheering adviser, introduced her cheerleaders and thanked them for their efforts.