EAST ST. LOUIS — In the past five years East St. Louis football coach Darren Sunkett has taken his Flyers to Ohio, Georgia and Indiana in pursuit of the best competition possible.
In 2013, the road trips have begun even earlier.
Competing in the prestigious Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Showcase in Springdale, Ark., this past weekend the Flyers finished in the top eight, winning four of seven pool-play games and, more importantly, got a chance to test their skills against some of the best talent in the nation.
"For us, that's what it's about. To play the best competition possible in order to get us ready for the season and in turn, prepare us for the playoffs,'' Sunkett said Wednesday. "We feel that the Southwestern Conference is the best football conference in the St. Louis area and this just gives us another avenue in which to prepare for the season.
The Flyers definitely got their fill of competition in the 32-team event, which was hosted by Shiloh High School and included teams from Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as 11 teams from Arkansas.
The Flyers defeated Bentonville (Ark.) 19-2, Victory Christian (Okla.) 19-9, host Springdale (Ark.) 24-15 and McElster (Okla.) 27-2.
Olive Branch (Miss.) won the title. Aurora Christian was the only other team from Illinois invited to compete in the two-day event, which began with a welcome breakfast hosted by NFL and Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Tim Tebow.
"It was a great experience for our kids. When you talking high school football in states like Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, you are talking about states where it is a high deal and a big revenue producing sport,'' Sunkett said "It's big in Illinois, but Illinois is more of a basketball state.
"There were a lot of state champions, state runners-up and former state champions in the showcase. The kids really got a taste of what high school football is like in other parts of the nation."
The level of competition also should benefit East St. Louis, which opens its season with home games against national powers Rockhurst, from Kansas City, Mo., and Lombard-Montini.
College scouts and coaches were not allowed to recruit at the showcase, but Sunkett said that players who shined were noticed by the people who matter.
"The coaches and scouts will be well informed of what went on from the media, social media and scouting services such as Rivals,'' Sunkett said. "Plus the fans and alumni from different schools who were there to watch.
"Like I said, it was a great time and a real learning experience for not only the players, but for us, the coaches, as well. I'm sure it will benefit us as we continue to prepare for the season."