Spring Tour: East St. Louis

May 11: North Gwinnett (GA)
May 19: Francis Howell (MO)
May 20: St. John Vianney (MO)
May 21: Winnetonka (MO)
May 22: CBC (MO)
June 2: Lee's Summit (MO)
EAST ST. LOUIS, Il. -- 2013 was a successful season for East St. Louis (IL). Led by head coach Darren Sunkett, the Flyers finished with a 9 and 4 record and made it to the Illinois Class 6A Semifinals.
Looking ahead to 2014, Sunkett and the Flyers are looking to take the next step and secure their eighth state championship.
"We just want to build on the success we had the prior year. We felt like we left a couple games out there on the table. We want to clean those things up. I guess the main thing right now is to just try and get the kids focused mentally. You start that just by your offseason weight program. They've been going through a pretty intense weight program this winter and we're just hoping that everything we are doing now carries over in to the summer and then in to the football season," explained Sunkett.
In order to make that improvement East St. Louis will need to replace the production of a Mizzou signee with that of a Mizzou commitment.
"Yeah, one thing about our school is skill guys come in an abundance. It's the big guys that are hard to find. Replacing a guy like Greg Taylor is going to be tough," said Sunkett. "You're talking about a kid who ran for 1800 yards and numerous touchdowns. Also did a great job for us defensively."
"Hopefully this year with a healthy Natereace Strong coming in he'll be able to carry the load for us. He's always been our main back until he was injured, so we're definitely looking for him to carry the main load on offense," he continued. "Defensively, we're looking for Markeith McGary to step up and do the things that Taylor did last season."
Other key players for the Flyers include a couple of big-time Mizzou targets and some players that most likely will soon be.
"As far as offensively, I think we're going to be loaded skill wise. I think we got a great core of wide receivers led by Jeff Thomas who was a MaxPreps All-American. Then we got our senior back, Raekwon Griffin who caught for 500 yards in just five games because he was injured most of the year," said Sunkett. "Then we got an up and coming rising star in a kid named Karon Randolph who we're going to play on the other side of Thomas. We're expecting big things from him and matter of fact he just recently got his first offer from Kansas. Kenny Knight started as a three-technique last season. He's receiving a lot of attention from Division 1 schools. He'll be playing mainly center for us this season and subbing on defense. He's a pretty good athlete that we are expecting big things from. Then also are big sophomore tackle, Trevour Simms. Big 6-foot-5, 300 pounder. Started as a sophomore this past season, so going in to his junior year we are expecting big things from him."
"Defensively, we are going to lean heavily on Terry Beckner Jr.. He's our star. He carries the star power for us, so the defense will definitely be built around him," he continued. "We've got some young linebackers that we're going to play this year and we think they're going to be better than last years linebacker corp. A bunch of big kids. The average height is 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 and 210 to 215 pounds. We're definitely expecting big things from those guys. As far as secondary wise, we're looking at McGary to lead our secondary. He's a big cover corner. Very, very aggressive. Very instinctive. We're definitely looking for big things from him."
Regarding the recruitment of Beckner, things are moving along at a steady pace. Despite all the accolades, stars and rankings the #5 ranked defensive tackle in the country is not a fan of the limelight that comes with his status.
"He doesn't get too carried away with it. He's just a very humble kid. He's just letting the recruiting process take care of itself," explained Sunkett. "He pretty much knows the five or six schools that he is very interested in. He's not the kind of kid that is going to tell a school no I'm not interested you. He'll sit and talk to everybody that comes in here that wants to talk to him. He's just a very gracious kid. With the help of his parents, he's going to take his time and make the right choice when it all boils down."
Mizzou is one of the schools in that group of five or six schools for Beckner. According to Sunkett it is based on the work the Tigers have put in to St. Louis over the last few years despite not always having the most success.
"Yeah, I think they are doing a good job. When you talk about Missouri some people kind of frown upon the fact that there's not a lot of St. Louis area kids actually starting for those guys, but we have a small metropolitan area. If they can just get the guys, the true so called 'studs' and get those guys recruited and keep them in-state…I think they're doing a great job," he said. "Of course we have to go to places like Texas, with a larger metropolitan area, to get the better…I wouldn't say better athletes, but more of an abundance of athletes to compete against the Alabama's and Auburn's and Georgia's that they have to compete against week in and week out. I think they are doing a great job. They are in St. Louis and they're plucking athletes that they need to pluck to be successful on the field."