STEUBENVILLE - John Downard summed up his Big Red football experience in a single word: success!
Downard was a defensive tackle and offensive guard on the 1985 Steubenville team that was honored Friday during the 28th annual Legends Night celebration at Harding Stadium. The event is sponsored by the school's Boosters Club.
"Success pretty much says it all," Downard noted. "People that I have met and people who knew me from playing all talk about the success we had. When I applied for the job I still have, the human resources person asked me more about winning the state title than my qualifications for the job. I have great memories of my time with great people."
The 1985 team went 8-2 in the regular season, losing to Youngstown Rayen (14-7 in the opener) and Bellaire (11-10). Coach Reno Saccoccia's squad opened the playoffs with a 21-14 overtime victory against Wintersville then disposed of Canton Central Catholic, 26-19.
The playoff run came to an end with a tough 18-16 loss to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. That Mooney team was quarterbacked by Bo Pellini, the current head coach at Nebraska.
Friday's event honored the seniors from the 1985 club along with the coaching staff. As Pete Barren of the Boosters Club pointed out the seniors "were part of Big Red's first real state championship." Big Red earned the Division II title during the 1984 season.
"The 1985 team had a good bunch of guys who were fun to coach," Saccoccia said. "I think we didn't have the type of regular season I thought we'd have but we came on and made a good strong run in the playoffs.
"The thing that hurt them compared to the 1984 squad was depth. We didn't have the same depth we had in 1984. In 1985, we had good players but we didn't have the depth we had in 1984."
Ted Gorman, who played center and linebacker in 1985, said the team really began to work harder after the opening loss to Rayen (which ran a hitch and pitch to score the game winner).
"We had won the state title in 1984 and had seven or eight starters back," said Gorman, who now serves as assistant principal at Big Red. "Once we got things figured out, we had a successful season."
Gorman, who went on to play at West Liberty State College, coached at Big Red for 16 years before moving into administration.
"It's always been an honor for me to be part of the Big Red program," he added. "We have an outstanding tradition with people who care about you. I have great memories of my playing days. I was fortunate to play with a great group of guys. We had success because of the respect we had for each other and the bonds we formed."
Don Moore, a defensive end on the squad, called his Big Red playing days "the best years of my life. I played with so many good guys and really enjoyed myself."
Joe Biasi, currently a teacher at Big Red along with serving as golf coach and assistant softball coach, said he never "realized how big of a deal it (playing football) is until I got out. I'm grateful for the time I had as well as the lessons I learned from the coaches. And, my teammates were just great."
Biasi also served on the Big Red football coaching staff for 10 years.
For Steve Nodianos, who quarterbacked the Big Red in 1984 and 1985, wearing the crimson and the black "meant so much."
"You don't really realize it until you get out. I still follow Big Red and I love it. We have pride in the school and pride in our city. My family and I really look forward to fall."
Dan Wise, a safety and tailback, said his playing days "seem like yesterday. The coaches taught us so much, they taught us about life on and off the field. Playing for Big Red really made me a better person and I want to thank my coaches for that."
He added he still attends games and tries to "encourage today's players to grow and perform better."
Joby Jones, who now lives in Texas, credits his Big Red football career for making a huge difference in his live.
"Playing football kept me out of trouble when I was young and it kept me focused," he said. "It did so much for me and really helped me succeed in life."
Senior players attending Friday's festivities were:
Biasi, Mike Cole, Downard, Gorman, Joe Johnson, Jones, Greg Mamula, Nick Mamula, Marcus McGhee, Moore, Nodianos, Julius Shackleford, Ed Smith, Jim Strachan and Wise.