East St. Louis football coach Darren Sunkett takes great pride in the fact that the Flyers have never backed down from a challenge either at home or on the road.
But in 2014, the challenge of getting off to a fast start will be even more difficult than usual for the Flyers.
The Flyers will open their season Aug. 30 when they travel to Cincinnati to take on perennial power St. Xavier High School.
The Bombers finished 5-6 a year ago, but have won a pair of state titles in the talent-rich football state of Ohio.
The Bombers-Flyers matchup is just the start of a brutally tough opening four weeks of the season for East St. Louis, which travels to take on perennial state champion Lombard Montini in week two before opening the Southwestern Conference season with Class 7A powers Edwardsville and O'Fallon in weeks three and four.
"It's a tough schedule for sure. But we believe that playing good competition makes you better and helps get you ready for the postseason,'' Sunkett said. "We also enjoy taking the team on trips like Cincinnati and Chicago (Lombard) to let them experience some different things and meet new people and opponents.
"We've had a great summer and the kids have done a good job in the weight room to get ready for the season. We like to challenge our kids. Hopefully, we're all ready for those challenges when the season starts in a couple of weeks.
East St. Louis was just one school that went through its first day of practice on Monday. Sunkett said about 55 players are currently in the Flyers program, including 30 freshmen.
East St. Louis finished 9-4 in 2013. Back to lead the Flyers this season are defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., running back Natereace Strong and sophomore Jeff Thomas
Beckner is ranked as one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, while Strong is a University of Missouri recruit.
Thomas is one of the top ranked sophomore wide receivers in the country.
Beckner to wait: Another of the big questions heading into the season centers around where East St. Louis senior defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. will go to college next year.
And when he will make the decision.
According to Rivals.com, the 6-foot-4 290-pound Beckner is the top-ranked recruit in the state among the Class of 2015.
Beckner is also the No. 32 ranked senior overall and No. 5 ranked defensive tackle in the nation.
Sunkett said every NCAA Division I perennial power in the nation -- with the exception of Alabama -- has shown interest in his All-American.
But according to Sunkett, coaches and scouts will have to wait for a while longer before learning of Beckner's decision.
'I would say that almost all of the top 25 teams in the nation are recruiting Terry,'' Sunkett said. "But Terry has told me he's going to wait. He's more concerned about doing what he can to help this team win football games this Fall.''