STEUBENVILLE - Three Big Red seniors will strap it up Saturday when the prestigious Ohio North-South Classic is held at Welcome Stadium in Dayton.
Matt Petrella, Dashon Redman and Manard Reed will play for the South squad in the Division I-II-III game, set to start at 4 p.m. The classic, sponsored by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, is the longest running high school football all-star game in the U.S.
Harrison Central's Nick Pelegreen will play in the Division IV-V-VI game for Huskies head coach Justin Kropka, who will be calling the shots on the South sidelines.
"To have three kids from our program selected for this game is a real honor," Big Red's Reno Saccoccia said. "That seldom happens. All three had individual success at various levels during the season. Also, they have continued to work hard in the weight room to prepare for the game."
To celebrate the event's 68th anniversary, the OHSFCA expanded the classic to include more athletes and feature two games. The Division IV-V-VI game will get going at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"With the number of athletes playing football in Ohio, it was an easy decision by the OHSFCA to host not just one game, but two games in 2013," said Mike Fell, president of the OHSFCA. "It's also a pleasure to travel to Welcome Stadium, an outstanding facility to showcase the top players in Ohio. Every year, there are standouts in every division and one game is not enough to highlight all the talent. The OHSFCA is very proud of the young men who go on to pursue college careers, and this year is no exception."
Bob DeLong from Xenia High School is the head coach of the South squad for the D I-III game. The North team will be coached by Brian Colatruglio from Tiffin Columbian.
The three Steubenville seniors selected all played key roles in helping Saccoccia's program reach the Ohio playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
Petrella led the Big Red in receiving with 37 catches for 500 yards and six touchdowns (one score covered 70 stripes). He is listed as a wide receiver on the South roster. As a defensive back, he was the team's co-leader in interceptions. His pick six against Akron Butchel played a major role in Big Red earning a victory.
"I'm honored to be playing in the longest running football all-star game in the country," Petrella, who is looking to continue his gridiron career at Youngstown State University, said. "This gives me the opportunity to represent my city and my school and also prove to everyone the type of athlete I am.
"I just want to thank every coach I've had for developing me into the person and athlete I am today. Coach Reno has not only taught me to be a good player but also has prepared me to be a successful adult. I'm going to use this opportunity to make my school and city proud."
He also thanked his parents and family because "if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be the person I am today. They have always supported me no matter what."
Redman was Big Red's leading rusher, fighting his way to 904 yards and nine touchdowns. He racked up 180 stripes in the week 10 victory over Butchel, which clinched a playoff game at Harding Stadium for his squad. As a linebacker, he was in on 72 tackles.
A third team all-Ohio Division III pick, Redman, who plans to continue his football career at Mount Union University, is listed as a linebacker on the South roster.
"It's an honor for me to be picked to play in this game which will feature great talent from all over the state," Redman said. "It's been a great experience to practice with and get to meet some of the guys in this game. Plus, it's great just to suit up for another high school football game."
Reed, who will play the defensive line for the South, earned Big Red's MVP award for the 2012 season. He recorded 42 tackles and two sacks from his nose tackle position. He also saw some time as a fullback. He plans to attend Marietta College.
"I'm really happy to be playing in the North-South classic," Reed noted. "I've enjoyed meeting new players and getting back to football. The players are all MVPs. I'm glad to be in this game."
The teams have been practicing since mid-March. Players will be report to Dayton on Thursday.
"All three of them did a very good job in leadership during a very adverse season," Saccoccia stated. "I'm most proud of them for that. They helped keep the team focused and kept all eyes on the goal of sticking together and fighting as a team."
Justin Kropka, head coach at Harrison Central, will lead the South team in the D IV-VI game. Nick Pelegreen, who played for Kropka, will join his coach in Dayton.
"It's such a great thing, such an honor when your peers vote you to do something," he said. "When your peers throughout Ohio say yes to you, you don't turn that down.
"I have a deep appreciation for that kind of thing. If I am going to do it, I am going to do the best possible job I can do to represent the Ohio Valley. I want to represent us as well as I can. Not just Harrison Central, but all the schools.
"Without the split, there was a really good chance that Division I full scholarship players would not be able to play in the North-South game. Everybody did the right thing by splitting the game into two games. Judging by the reaction we have received from small school kids, they are really excited."
Nick Pelegreen totaled 121 regular-season tackles to help lead his squad to its second-ever playoff berth. His efforts were noticed as the Huskies' all-time leading tackler was named 2012 Division IV Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year.
"He made every tackle," said Kropka. "I'm glad he got it, he deserved it. I can't say a more deserving kid than I have ever had on that side of the ball. He was a key guy on every blocking scheme we had and he was our long snapper. He came off on kick and kick return. He got two plays off. Other than that he did it all.
"He's one of the best two-way players I've ever been around in my years of football. He does everything right on and off field. His best games were against our best opponents."
The roster of Ohio North-South Classic alums is indeed impressive. It includes members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (like Roger Staubach from Purcell Marian High School and Jack Lambert from Crestwood); a plethora of NFL Pro Bowlers (including 9-time selection Alan Page from Canton Central Catholic and A.J. Hawk from Centerville); and former Heisman Trophy winners (Staubach and Desmond Howard from Cleveland St. Joseph). Past participants in the Ohio North-South Classic have gone on to appear in all but two of the 47 Super Bowls (missing only Super Bowls XX and XXXIII).
Tickets will be available at the Welcome Stadium box office on game day for $10 and are good for admission to both games. The stadium is located off of Interstate 75.
The North won last year's game, 21-16, to snap a two-game losing streak in the series