High School Sports

With another football season, expect East St. Louis to make another run at a 7A title

East St. Louis head football coach Darren Sunkett.
East St. Louis head football coach Darren Sunkett. File Photo

Another year, another deep football playoff run for East St. Louis.

A year after winning the Class 7A state championship, the Flyers won 10 games and another Southwestern Conference football championship.

Then, with a defense that allowed only 25 points in eight quarters, the Flyers rolled through a pair of perennial suburban powers — Libertyville and Buffalo Grove — in the playoffs before dropping a heartbreaking 21-18 decision to Chicago Mount Carmel in a quarterfinal game.

What might have been had the Flyers not lost all-state running back Jarrell Anderson to a season-ending injury on his first rushing attempt of the year or if quarterback Christian Perez not battled injuries?

“Our top running back goes down on his first carry of the year and then our quarterback goes down. That’s tough to overcome,’’ Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. “But I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and fought through that adversity.

“I thought our backup quarterback and running backs did an exceptional job of stepping up. But that’s the nature of the game. Injuries happen. Hopefully we got all of our injuries out of our system last year.’’

The Flyers open their season on Aug. 25 against Detroit’s King High School at Wayne State University. They return four key players up front in Northern Illinois University recruit Demond Taylor (6-3, 275), Iowa State University recruit Darrell Simmons (6-4, 280), Devon Hunt (6-2, 260) and Javontez Spraggins (6-2, 300).

Taylor will be a four-year starter for the Flyers, while Spraggins, a junior, begins his third season on the offensive line.

“Devon (Hunt) has committed to SIU-Carbondale and he’ll be a two year starter for us. We’ve got a good group of four and we’re looking for somebody else to step up and go with them,’’ Sunkett said. “But we like what we’ve got coming back on the line.’’

The ones benefiting from the Flyers big, explosive offensive front will be a talented group of skilled position players.

The Flyers have a trio of outstanding wide receivers led by junior Lawaun Powell Jr. Ranked as one of the top juniors in the state, Powell caught 37 passes for 594 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. He will be joined by promising sophomore Keantez Lewis and junior Antonio Johnson.

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Jimmy J Simmons Junior Lawaun Powell Jr. will lead a trio of state-ranked wide receivers at East St. Louis.

Johnson is also ranked as one of the top defensive backs in the state by Rivals.com

Powell, who like Johnson, is ranked in the top 10 in Illinois by Rivals.com in Illinois for the Class of 2020, will be watched closely by opposing defenses this season.

Sophomore Tyler Macon will be the Flyers quarterback, while junior DeMonta Witherspoon will be the Flyers main running back. Witherspoon rushed for 382 yards and touchdowns while averaging just over seven yards per carry a year ago.

“Tyler played at the underclass level for us last year. He’s only a sophomore but he’s a mature sophomore who can and throw the football very well,’’ Sunkett said. “Then we’ve got Witherspoon as our running back. With that offensive line we should be able to run the football.’’

Taylor will anchor the defensive line along with Kendrick Scarborough (6-2, 245), while senior Cameron Clay (6-3, 200) and sophomore Cameron Lovett (6-0, 200) will be mainstays at linebacker.

Powell and Johnson may be two of the best safeties in the state and will headine the Flyers’ defensive backfield.

“They are both being highly recruited,’’ Sunkett said of Powell and Johnson. “We’re looking for big things with these guys. With the schedule that we’re playing, we’re just looking to stay healthy and take it game by game.

“The goal is to win week to week. We’re not looking at anything but getting ready to play Detroit King here in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll look at our week two opponent.’’

The Flyers beat Buffalo Groves to advance.