Flyers' Strong plans to play for Missouri

News-DemocratApril 9, 2014 

East St. Louis HS head football coach Darren Sunkett shown on the sidelines in a September 18, 2010 game against Edwardsville HS in this file photo from 2010.

TIM VIZER/BND

— Only two months removed from officially landing one of the top defensive backs in the Midwest in East St. Louis senior Greg Taylor, the Missouri Tigers seemingly have struck gold again within the Flyers' football program.

East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett confirmed Wednesday that junior running back Natereace Strong has given a verbal commitment to attend Missouri beginning in the 2015 season.

Plagued by injuries for much of his high school career, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Strong has rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns in three years at East St. Louis. But on the college scouts and coaches radar from the time he first lined up in the Flyers' backfield three years ago, Strong possesses a rare combination of speed, power and unlimited potential.

"Nate has a ton of potential and everybody sees it when he is healthy. When he is healthy, he's tough to stop,'' Sunkett said. "Nate has just had a rash of bad luck with injuries to his hamstrings, his ankle and his foot over the first three years.

"We're just hoping that that kid stays healthy this year and has the kind of year that we know he's capable of having.''

Strong is the No 212-ranked overall prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com (No. 3 in Illinois) and No. 226 prospect according to ESPN.com.

ESPN.com has Strong ranked as the No. 2 prospect in Illinois and a top 20 running back in the Class of 2015.

Strong, who will join Taylor as the latest Flyers to attend Missouri, chose the Tigers over many other top programs. Among the other schools offering scholarships to Strong were national champion Florida State, Ohio State, Illinois and Kansas.

Verbal commitments are non-binding. But Strong, who informed the Tigers coaching staff of his decision during a campus visit Tuesday, isn't likely to change his mind as he looks to join a program that reached the SEC title game last season.

"When you look at the best schools, especially in this Midwest, Missouri is the top program right now. Then when you look at the fact that Missouri plays in the top conference (Southeastern) in the nation and you get the chance to compete against the best athletes in the nation on a weekly basis, that also weighs into it,'' Sunkett said. "Nate also wants to major in communications and Missouri has one of the best communications programs in the country.

"When you add those three aspects together, it makes sense for Nate to attend Missouri.''

Sunkett also said Wednesday that freshman wide receiver Jeff Thomas was has been offered a scholarship by Missouri.

Regarded as one of the top freshmen receivers in the nation, Thomas caught 56 passes for 988 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall.

"It just goes to show what coaches think of Jeff's ability and potential. But he's still got three years to decide where he wants to go and what he wants to do,'' Sunkett said.

Sunkett added that Kansas, Syracuse and Michigan have also offered scholarships to Thomas.

Beckner update

While Strong knows where he plans to attend college, a second Flyers junior -- defensive lineman Terry Beckner -- has decided to wait.

Ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Illinois and a top 20 player overall in the nation in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com, the 6-4, 270-pound Beckner has been offered by Auburn, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Florida, Missouri, USC and Oregon, just to mention a few.

Nelson headed to Memphis

Sunkett also said that senior quarterback Dominic Nelson will attend the University of Memphis, where he will attempt to walk on to the Tigers' football team.

"Dominic had offers from mostly I-AA and a few NCAA Division II schools, but he wanted to attend a bigger school,'' Sunkett said. "He's going to try and walk on at Memphis, where he will hopefully have the opportunity to fulfill his dream."

Nelson carries a 3.8 GPA and scored a 27 on his ACT.

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