The 2019 high school football season officially got underway Monday as teams throughout Illinois began drills in preparation for the opening weekend Aug. 30-31.
In Southern Illinois, four new coaches — Michael Harrison (Belleville East), Bryan Edgar (Belleville West), Byron Gettis (O’Fallon) and Orlando Gooden (Granite City) — take over established programs with hopes of prolonging their seasons with lengthy playoff runs.
Always deep in talent, the 2019 season looks to be no different in the metro east, where many of the top individual players in the state will showcase their abilities on a weekly basis.
Following is an alphabetical list of some of the players to watch this season:
Donovan Bieber, sr, RB, and Ronnie Hunsaker, sr, RB, Columbia
Speed, speed and more speed are what the Eagles have in the offensive backfield with this talented pair, which will lead what should be the the top offense in the Cahokia Conference this fall. Hunsaker ran for 844 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago and the Eagles senior has the ability to both run around and through the defense. Bieber ran for just over 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Combined with the Horner brothers, quarterback Nic and wide receiver Sam, the Eagles offense could be hard to stop this fall.
Kevon Billingsley, East St. Louis, sr, DE
The 6-4, 244-pound Billinglsey will anchor and the Flyers athletic defensive unit which also has its share of future college players. Ranked as the No. 7 player in the state, the 6-4, 244-pound Billingsley played his first three years at Lutheran North High School in St. Louis and has verbally committed to the University of Missouri beginning in the 2020 season.
Shane Caraker, sr, OL and Johnny Keith, jr, OL, Central
The Cougars must replace several of their top offensive weapons from a year ago, but in Caraker and Keith they have two of the top offensive linemen in the Cahokia Conference of which to build a solid running game. Both the 6-5, 240-pound Caraker and 6-foot 240-pound Keith were second team all-area selections last season.
Jacob Carmack, Freeburg, soph, DL
Don’t look for this Midgets defensive lineman to have a sophomore slump after he put up huge numbers in 2018. A first team all-area player, Carmack recorded 75 tackles, including 53 solos He also had five sacks and recovered three fumbles.
Freddy Edwards, Granite City, sr, QB
A playmaker from the time he stepped into the Granite City lineup as a freshman three years ago, Edwards returns for his senior season hoping to lead the Warriors into the playoffs for the second straight year under rookie head coach Orlando “Doc” Gooden. Verbally committed to Miami of Ohio, Edwards returned to form a year ago, accounting for over 2,700 yards of total offense and having a hand in 31 touchdowns. He will lead the Warriors, who begin their second year as an independent after leaving the Southwestern Conference following the 2017-18 school year.
Yogi Flager, WR-DB, sr, and Kameron Sloan, RB-WR, sr, Belleville East
A new era begins as Michael Harrison takes over the coaching duties at Belleville East this fall. Flager, a two way starter a year ago and Sloan, a transfer from Collinsville, will lead the charges for East which hopes to rejoin the SWC elite. Flager, who had 22 receptions for 449 yards and a touchdown a year ago, has gotten several NCAA Division II looks. Sloan, a gifted athlete, averaged 6.7 yards per rushing attempt and 15 yards per reception as a member of the Collinsville football program in 2018.
Luke Foreman, RB, sr, and Amaziah Lusk, sr, RB, Triad
If the Knights are to challenge a reloading Highland and improved Mascoutah for the Mississippi Valley Conference title this season, they’ll need big seasons from Lusk and Foreman who ran for a combined 860 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.
Mitchell Haake, jr, WR, and Zach Napovanice, sr, WR, Mater Dei
The Knights must replace quarterback and News-Democrat small school offensive player of the year Travis Jasper, but Mater Dei does return two of the top wide receivers in the area in Napovanice and Haake. Napovanice caught 42 passes for 534 yards and three touchdowns while the 6-5, 190-pound Haake had 17 catches for 440 yards and seven scores
Mac Harris, Althoff, sr, OL-DL
A 6-3, 250-pound senior, Harris will anchor the Crusaders offensive and defensive lines after earning News-Democrat small school all-area recognition a year ago,. Being recruited by several mid-major NCAA Division I programs, Harris finished last season with 38 solo tackles and 51 stops in all. He also had a pair of quarterback sacks.
Sam Horner, Columbia, sr, DB-WR
The 6-2 190-pound Horner will be counted on to do a little bit of everything this season, as he did a year ago. Still unsure of what sport he will compete in at the college level, the Eagles three-sport athlete was a first team all-area placekicker and defensive back while playing for his dad, Eagles coach Scott Horner. He was also a second team all-area wide receiver, hauling in 32 receptions for nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns.
Antonio Johnson, East St. Louis, sr, DB-WR
Rated the No. 11 safety in the nation for the 2020 recruiting class and No. 3 ranked senior in Illinois, Johnson committed to Tennessee in June, then opted out six weeks later. Texas A&M and Alabama could be the current favorites to land the 6-1, 180-pound Johnson, who was among the top two-way starters in the St. Louis area a year ago. He grabbed 32 receptions for nearly 700 yards and nine touchdowns., while finishing with 72 tackles, 53 solos and six interceptions as one of the leaders on the Flyers defensive unit.
Justin Johnson, Edwardsville, jr, RB
Ranked by 24/7 Sports as the No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2021, Johnson will be the Tigers top offensive weapon this fall following the graduation of senior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who is now a freshman at Notre Dame. The 5-11 190-pound Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards and finished his sophomore season with more than 1,3000 yards of total offense.. He already has scholarship offers from Illlinois and Illinois State.
Tim Johnson, Alton, jr, RB
Johnson was among the top offensive players in the Southwestern Conference a year ago when he ran for 970 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot 175-pound Redbirds standout has breakaway speed and once again will benefit from running behind a quick and athletic front.
Emori Lee, Cahokia, jr, LB
Graduation took several defensive playmakers away from a Cahokia team which a year ago. But with the physical and quick Lee, Cahokia should have one of the elite players in the South Seven Conference for the next two seasons. As a sophomore, Lee finished with 82 solos tackles and had a hand in 118 stops in all while also recovering a pair of fumbles.
Tanner Little, Freeburg, sr, RB
A, Little was a big part of a Midgets offense which averaged over 40 points a game, tied Central and Columbia for the Cahokia Conference championship and finished 7-3 for the season. One of the top running backs in the metro east a year ago when he ran for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns, Little possesses the ability to run through defenders and enough speed to break away when need be.
Dominic Lovett, jr. WR, and Lawaun Powell, sr, WR, East St. Louis
Two , Powell and are just part of a loaded Flyers offense which could be among the best in the midwest. A second team all-area selection a year ago, Powell had 33 receptions for 737 yards and nine touchdowns. Lovett, a transfer from Belleville West, had 45 catches for 1,027 yards and 24 scores. With gifted junior quarterback Tyler Macon running the offense, look for the Flyers to light up the scoreboard on a nightly bases in 2019. Powell has offers from Illinois, Kentucky and Nebraska while Lovett has offers from Illinois and Iowa State along with interest from Alabama, Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Tyler Macon, East St. Louis, jr, QB
Ranked as the No. 19 player in the state for the Class of 2021 by 24/7 Sports, the 6-foot-180 pound Macon was a Belleville News-Democrat first team all-area selection a year ago when he led the Flyers to the Southwestern Conference championship. A true double-threat for coach Darren Sunkett’s high-powered offense, Macon threw for over 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 16 scores. With no fewer than three future NCAA Division I wide receivers form which to choose, Macon’s passing numbers could be staggering the next two years.
Jack McCloskey, Belleville West, sr, QB
The 6-1, 190-pound Maroons quarterback was among the best in the metro-east a year ago when he threw for 2,200 yards and 35 touchdowns. The unquestioned leader of the Maroons offense will need help in 2019 after Will Lanxon graduated and Dominic Lovett transferred to East St. Louis. Lanxon and Lovett combined for 90 receptions, 1.700 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.
Jacob Morrissey, Edwardsville sr, LB
A first team all Southwestern Conference and first team all-Area player a year ago, the 6-1, 210-pound Morrissey can dominate at times and will once again be a leader of a solid Edwardsville defense. Morrissey finished the 2018 season with 75 tackles, including 44 solos.
Blake Moss, Edwardsville, sr, OL
Moss (6-0, 250) doesn’t have great size, but is strong, quick and can off the football well. A first team all-area selection last year, Moss will be one of the leaders for a veteran Tigers offensive unit.
Logan Seibert, Belleville West, jr, PK-P
Younger brother of former Oklahoma All-American and Cleveland Browns placekicker Austin Seibert, Logan Seibert also has a powerful leg as he kicked four field goals and 42 PAT’s in earning all-conference and second team all-area honors last season.
Javontez Spraggins, East St. Louis, sr, OL
Huge and agile are just two words which come to mind when it comes to Spraggins, the No. 17-ranked senior in the state according ton 24/7 Sports. Committed to play in the SEC at the University of Tennessee, the 6-3 340-pound Spraggins will lead an offensive line which at full strength is among the best in Illinois.
Devin Wills, Mascoutah, sr, RB
Wills was one of the top running backs in the St. Louis area a year ago and heads into the 2019 season as the top offensive player in the Mississippi Valley Conference. Expected to run behind an experienced and big Indians offensive line, Wills should exceed the offensive numbers he put up during his junior year when he rushed for 1,483 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. Wills averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.
DeMonta Witherspoon, East St. Louis, sr, RB
The latest in a long line of great Flyers running backs, Witherspoon should be one of the top ball carriers in the state this season. Already with scholarship offers from Southern Mississippi and Central Michigan, Witherspoon is a good bet to exceed last season’s totals when he ran for over 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.