High School Sports

‘Where my heart told me to go’: ESL prize recruit picks Mizzou

East St. Louis All-American defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. has made his decision.

With tears streaming down his face, an emotional Beckner lifted a University of Missouri pennant, indicating that he’ll be taking his services to the Tigers and the Southeastern Conference. Student supporters cheered as his mother Jermaya removed her jacket to reveal a Missouri Tigers t-shirt she was wearing.

“I was following where my heart told me to go,” he said with a national TV audience watching live on ESPN U. “Actually I had an idea, but the final decision didn’t come until last (Tuesday) night. I sat down and talked it over with my parents. They told me to go where my heart told me to go.

“Missouri is a great school and they play in the best conference in the nation (Southeastern). When I made my official visit there last weekend, I just had the feeling this was the place where I should be. It made sense to me and it made sense to my family.’’

Beckner (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) was rated the second-best college football prospect in the ESPN 300 and among the nation’s best by several other national scouting services and publications. The cable sports network, ESPNU, was at East St. Louis Senior High to broadcast Wednesday’s announcement.

Also in attendance were the entire East St. Louis coaching staff, civic leaders, school adminstrators, parents Terry Sr. and Jermaya Beckner, several members of his family, many friends and most of the East St. Louis Flyers football team, which jammed into the school auditorium for the announcements that Beckner would be a Missouri Tiger and teammate Kenny Knight would be attending Ball State in Muncie, Ind.

“I walked in and I’m like ‘is this all for us?’’ Beckner said. “I thought it was really cool that everybody came out for this today. It’s something I’ll never forget.’’

And those who have watched Beckner dominate on the defensive front for much of his career will never forget either. A two-time all-state selection, Beckner’s talents were noticed early by Flyers coach Darren Sunkett who praised both Beckner and Knight for their hard work in the East St. Louis program.

“I am tremendously proud of both these young men who have worked very hard during their careers at East St. Louis to get to this point,’’ Sunkett said. “I was very hard on both of you at times, but now, today, you see that hard work has paid off and you are getting the chance to pursue your dreams of getting and education and playing college football.

Sunkett said the recruiting process of Beckner was a hectic one, especially in the last few days. The East Side senior had narrowed his potential choices to Missouri, Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn and Oregon. But in the end it came down to either Missouri or Florida State.

“It was down to those two. I know Missouri had been looking at Terry since his sophomore year and that he had a good relationship with the coaching staff,’’ Sunkett said. “The last few days has been a little crazy with the different media and all four schools calling to find out if they were still in the running.

“But I think anytime your program can get this kind of national exposure its a positive thing. It helps the football program, the school and the community.’’

Beckner is the third East St. Louis player in the past two years to commit or sign with Mizzou. Running back Natereace Strong committed to Missouri as a junior last year. After graduating from East St. Louis after the first semester, he is currently attending Hinds (Miss.) Community College and plans on enrolling at Missouri in the future. Former East St. Louis defensive back Greg Taylor is a freshman at Missouri.

During his senior season, Beckner was in on 116 tackles, including 74 solos. He also had three quarterback sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Beckner runs the 40-yard dash in 4.89 seconds and was selected to play in the Under Armour High School All-American game.

Recruiting magazine SB Nation calls Beckner the “ideal strong-side defensive end.” It lists his combination of size, speed and strength among his greatest assets, but also says he has “body control” with advanced ability to change direction to pursue ball carriers. The SB Nation site also says Beckner is an effective run stopper with sufficient “burst” to be an effective pass rusher as well.

Beckner could be the man Pinkel and the Tigers are hoping will be the Tigers next dominating presence on the defensive front as he follows in the footsteps of players such as Michael Sam, Aldon Smith, Markus Golden and Sheldon Richardson, among others.

“That may have played a little bit of a factor in my decision. Missouri has been successful in moving players on to the next level,’’ Beckner said. “I just felt comfortable at Missouri. Plus I’m thinking about majoring in journalism and its the best school in the nation for that.

“But Missouri is a place where I will have a chance to get great coaching and compete with top athletes every day. I’m looking forward to that opportunity.’’

The Flyers finished the season 7-5 against some top competition, including nationally-ranked teams and their usual Southwestern Conference gauntlet. The season ended with a 49-27 loss at Peoria-Notre Dame in the Class 6A state semifinal.

Other Recruits

The following is a list of area college recruits submitted to the News-Democrat that have given verbal commitments or will be signing with colleges this week. Coaches, athletic directors and parents can submit other recruits to sportswriter Norm Sanders by email at nsanders@bnd.com. Please include name, position, sport and college choice.

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