Clippers gear up for North-South Classic

COLUMBIANA – Columbiana football coach Bob Spaite describes Brandon Hacker and Britton Steiginga as two of the more unique talents that he’s had the pleasure of coaching over his career.

Hacker: a tough, model senior who played both ways and never came off the field despite suffering from painful knee sprains.

Steiginga: an exemplar as well, and the highlight reel back.

The pair of Columbiana seniors have been playing football together since they were in seventh grade and have one last chance to suit up in a Clipper uniform together at the 68th annual Ohio North-South Classic on April 27 at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium.

“It’s great, having a fellow Clipper be by my side for this game and having my own teammate is a real confidence booster,” Hacker said.

“Being on the team with him, it’s awesome” Steiginga said. “It’s another opportunity to play a big game with one of my friends.”

Hacker was notified of his selection on Super Bowl Sunday. Steiginga’s door opened when Kirtland’s Damon Washington, the Ohio Division V Offensive Player of the Year, opted to back out of the game.

Steiginga and Hacker both played against Washington in Columbiana’s 2011 playoff loss to state champion Kirtland.

“I was able to compete against him my junior year, I have some big shoes to fill with him but I think I can do it,” Steiginga said. “(On defense) I hit him pretty hard and kept him out of the end zone. I thought I was able to keep up with him, but he was definitely a good back.”

Hacker will be lining up as a linebacker, and Steiginga will likely play running back and slot receiver on offense and defensive back.

Steiginga also hopes to make an impact on special teams, returning kickoffs and punts.

“I want to score touchdowns and I think I can do it offensively, but if they need me defensively I can play defensive back and chase down anyone,” Steiginga said. “I am doing whatever they need to get as much playing time as I can.”

Spaite said he’s excited to see his two impact players back on the field and in the company of the athletes they will be pitted against.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think they will play very well given the opportunity. Those are great kids,” Spaite said. “Steiginga is a tremendous talent and I don’t know that there’s a more disciplined player that I’ve ever coached than Brandon Hacker. They’ll be fine.”

This year, the North-South Classic is divided into two games – one for Division I-III schools and another for Division IV-VI schools.

The pair of Clippers got up close and personal during a scrimmage with the opposing North team last Sunday.

Hacker, lined up as a linebacker found himself face to face with Warren Harding’s Leshun Daniels, an Iowa recruit.

“He was like their blocking back slash tight end,” Hacker said. “He was coming through the hole and I got in the backfield a little earlier than I anticipated. We met, and I didn’t get knocked down, but he hit me the hardest that I’ve ever been.”

“I know what to expect now, those guys don’t mess around,” he said. “Going through that scrimmage and knocking heads, it got serious and it will just better prepare us for the game.”

Steiginga also was fully aware of the talent on the other side of the ball.

“Definitely hard competition, you have to be on your game. You can’t make mistakes,” he said. “Every chance you get you have to prove to the coaches that you can play.”

Having the opportunity to strap up one more time injury free is an opportunity that is relished by both athletes.

Steiginga was on pace for a record-breaking season before a concussion and high-ankle sprain limited him to seven games. He accounted for 1,557 all-purpose yards on 120 touches and scored a total of 15 touchdowns.

Hacker totaled 70 tackles on defense and carried the ball for 892 yards and 12 touchdowns as a fullback despite playing injured.

“It feels great, it’s definitely much better feeling now than going through the season hurt every game and cringing every play,” Hacker said. “I feel 100 percent now and like a much better player now.”

“I feel pretty much 100 percent again, playing on my injury really hurt me so I can’t wait to get out there full go again,” Steiginga said. “Battling those injuries are a lot tougher than it seems. It still bothers me, but it’s not going to slow me down for one more game.”

Adding to their enthusiasm for being healthy is a deep-seeded pride to be representing the Clippers one last time.

“It feels good, whenever I go to state for track I try to make as big an impression as I can for my school and my town, and I try to do the same for football,” Steiginga said.

“Football is a special game,” Hacker said. “Not many people get to play it so I just put it all out there every time I’m on the field. It means a lot and I feel honored to represent Columbiana for this game.”