East St. Louis seniors Eric Rodgers and Eric Owens Jr. spent many hours together on the Clyde Jordan Stadium turf helping lead the Flyers deep into the Class 7A playoffs.
By this fall, Rodgers and Owens could find themselves on opposing sides of a Missouri Valley Football Conference game.
An all-state linebacker and the News-Democrat Large School Defensive Player of the Year, Owens signed a national letter of intent Wednesday play at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Rodgers, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver, committed to Illinois State University.
The pair was among a group of 12 Flyers who gathered with coaches, friends and family in the high school library to sign their letters of intent Wednesday.
Rodgers, who caught 51 passes for 866 yards and six touchdowns, and Owens, who finished his senior season with 127 tackles, are hoping to make an immediate impact with their new teams. They could wind up matched in coverage Oct. 13 when the Salukis travel north to Normal to take on the Redbirds.
“He is going to have to see me,” Rodgers said, laughing. “I just hope we get a chance to talk. I hope he does great. We’re still family, you know.”
Senior quarterback Christian Perez was the third Flyers’ player to sign with a Division I program. After giving a verbal commitment last summer, Perez made it official when he signed with Navy.
Rodgers was a big part in the Flyers offense this season. Teamingng with sophomore wide receiver Lawaun Powell, they combined for more than 1,200 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.
Rodgers said he also looked at Alabama State, SIUC and Morgan State before deciding to become a Redbird.
“The big thing for me was their program fits in well for me and the way I play,” Rodgers said. “They have a new receivers coach and I was recruited by my position coach. That’s never happened before. I’m 6-4. I’m a big target out there. I’m hard to miss and I can make things happen after I catch the football.”
Owens, 6-2 and 205 pounds, has been one of the top defensive players in the state the past two years. As a junior, Owens finished with 77 tackles and 11 sacks for a team that won the Class 7A state title. As a senior, Owens was even better.
Like Rodgers, Owens said he had offers from Alabama State and Morgan State, among others. But what sold the soft-spoken Flyers senior was the Salukis’ persistence.
“They were on me from the start and they stayed in contact with me,” Owens said. “That showed me they really wanted me to be part of their program. I really appreciate that.
“It’s a place where I think I can go in and play as a freshman next year and I’ll have that chance. I’m just glad to get the decision made. I’ve never been through anything like the recruiting process before.”
Perez, who transferred from O’Fallon during his junior year, threw for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns with just one interception before being sidelined with a knee injury late in the season.
Like Owens, Perez said he was glad to be done with the recruiting process and be a member of the Navyprogram.
They were on me from the start and they stayed in contact with me. That showed me they really wanted me to be part of their program. I really appreciate that.
Eric Owens Jr., East St. Louis linebacker on why he picked SIUC
“It’s good to finally have it over,” Perez said. “I had some (college) coaches get after me, but I’m like I really like the coaches at Navy and I’m happy with my decision. I’m blessed to have my family and friends behind me. They have been with me all the way. Playing at East St. Louis and making the move from O’Fallon wasn’t hard at all. I had great teammates behind me all year.
Among the other Flyers signing scholarships was running back Jarrell Anderson, who will begin his college career at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The 5-11 195-pound Anderson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on the Flyers’ first play from scrimmage against Providence Catholic. With a scholarship offer from Syracuse and others showing interest, including Illinois and Nebraska, Anderson was lost for the season.
Following surgery and rehabilitation, Anderson hopes to compete in track and field for the Flyers this spring before beginning his college career later this summer.
“Everything is going good,” Anderson said. “I’ve been running for two weeks and I went back to Dr. (Richard) Lehman and he said I’ve got another six weeks of rehab. Everything is on schedule. Everything is looking good. Iowa Western is a good school. I went out to visit and its a good environment. (Junior college) is a road I have to take to work on my grades but that’s all right.
“I’m not pushing it, but by football season, I should be right at 100 percent.”
Three players, offensive lineman Elijah Smith and linebackers Imunique Williams and Terrion Williams, signed with Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, while fullback Charlando Robinson will attend Benedectine College in Atchison, Kan.
Outside linebacker Julian Smith and offensive lineman Jaylon Brinkley will play at Augustana College in Rock Island. Running back Perez Hall signed with Wayne State College in Detroit and defensive back Kenneth Scarbrough III signed with McKendree.