By STEVE RAPPACH
EAST LIVERPOOL - The return of a controversial high school football player earlier this week appeared to be the very least of everyone's concerns on Saturday.
Instead, continued improvement was the goal for the Steubenville and East Liverpool football teams as both embarked on Patterson Field for their scrimmage.
"We scrimmaged them for a reason," East Liverpool coach Josh Ludwig said. "We wanted to play out."
"It was nice to get back with East Liverpool," Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said. "They have a class coaching staff. They have a lot of class people working here, and to get up here on the field working with their kids."
There were no protests inside or outside of Patterson Field as both sides cheered on for their respective teams. East Liverpool athletic director Bob Shansky enjoyed seeing the turnout from both sides.
"Actually we had a nice crowd," Shansky said. "I'm impressed with the number of people that came up. A lot of Big Red came up and a bit of our people came up, so I think they're all ready for football."
The focus at the scrimmage was more on the team's improvements than any particular person, place or thing, especially Steubenville senior wide receiver Ma'Lik Richmond.
One of two players convicted in the Steubenville rape case of 2012, Richmond served nine months in juvenile detention for his role and is currently on probation and must re-register as a sex offender every 180 days for 20 years.
Although Richmond was reported to have been part of the Big Red's scrimmage with Cambridge on Tuesday, he did not participate Saturday. Instead, he was on the sidelines at Patterson Field.
Saccoccia declined to comment on Richmond or why he didn't play, choosing instead to focus on other players on his team.
"We had some players that we weren't sure if they could play varsity, and so we gave them work," Saccoccia said.
Two players who stood out for the Big Red were senior wide receiver Jordan Gamble - responsible for three of Steubenville's eight touchdowns - and 6-foot-5 sophomore wide receiver Charles Reeves, whose abilities were witnessed first hand by East Liverpool senior defensive back Kade Reynolds.
"He's a great athlete," Reynolds said regarding Reeves. "I think we're going to see that a lot with Raeqwan (Eliam, junior cornerback) because he's a shorter corner, but that's what we're there for. We're there to have his back. Whether he's 6-foot-5 or 5-foot-6, he's going to go to anyone."
Although the Potters didn't score during the scrimmage, they feel they're getting better compared to their scrimmage against Edison on Tuesday.
"Our line made huge improvements," Reynolds said. "Before we had Edison, we were going at 110 miles per hour. Now we have to slow it down, and take the time to be able to hit the holes. I think we've improved dramatically."
"We came out a lot harder than we came out against Edison," East Liverpool senior fullback Austyn Dozier said. "There's always room for self-improvement. I feel like you can always better yourself which is what I try to do."
The Potters and Big Red both have one final home scrimmage before the season kicks off, and both sides will continue the work as the season draws near.
"I always want to play up," Ludwig said. "I think if you play up, the kids are going to respond well."
The Big Red will scrimmage Struthers on Thursday, while the Potters will face Crestview on Friday.