High School Football

Top-ranked East St. Louis faces tough schedule on road to ninth state championship

These are some of the top high school football players in the metro-east

As the 2019 high school football season kicks off, these are some of the players to keep an eye on.
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As the 2019 high school football season kicks off, these are some of the players to keep an eye on.

The East St. Louis Flyers enter the 2019 season with most of their major offensive weapons returning from a team which has dropped their last two Class 7A playoff games to Chicago Mount Carmel.

This year, the Flyers won’t have the Caravan to worry about.

With an IHSA member enrollment of 1,262 students, the Flyers have been reclassified as a Class 5A program and enter their season-opening contest Saturday at Batavia tied for the top-spot in the Associated Press Class 5A preseason poll with Joliet Catholic.

But before the Flyers can think about their first Class 5A playoff appearance since 1998, there is work to be done.

That work begins at 7 p.m. Saturday against Batavia, a former state champion which enters the the marquee matchup with the Flyers ranked second in the Class 7A state poll. East St. Louis will also take on defending Missouri Class 3A state champion Trinity Catholic, (Naperville) Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central this fall.

Those four teams were a combined 37-11 a year ago and, along with taking on Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville, ranked eighth in the Class 8A poll, the Flyers will be tested early and often on the road to a possible ninth state championship.

Veteran East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett declined to speak to the News-Democrat for this story. Belleville East coach Michael Harrison knows the Flyers will be tough to beat.

“It’s no secret that they are the perennial powerhouse and conference favorite and again have a lot of talented players,’’ Harrison said. “Coach Sunkett is a great football coach with a proven track record. When you have a coach of his class with talented players they definitely have the tools to be a very good ball club. ‘’

The Southwestern Conference champion Flyers, who went 9-3 in 2018, return nearly all of their top offensive players from a year ago. Back to direct the gifted group of athletes is junior quarterback Tyler Macon.

A first team all-area selection, Macon is a double threat both with his arm and his legs. Ranked as the No. 19 player in the Class of 2021 by 247 Sports, Macon threw for over 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 16 scores a year ago.

Senior DeMonta Witherspoon will handle the bulk of the carries at running back after rushing for over 1,300 yards and 18 scores a year ago.

But it’s at wide receiver where the Flyers are just plain scary. Sunkett has four future NCAA Division I athletes all with the ability and speed to score every time they touch the football.

Senior Lawaun Powell, who has narrowed his college choices to Illinois, Purdue and Nebraska, leads the way. Powell had 33 receptions for 737 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. Junior Dominic Lovett, a transfer from Belleville West who hauled in 45 catches for 1,027 yards and 24 scores last fall, already has received interest from several Big 10 schools, among others.

Also back is senior Antonio Johnson, one of the top two-way starters in the nation. The 6-3, 185-pound Johnson is regarded as one of the top high school safeties nationally. After decommitting from the University of Tennessee earlier this summer, Johnson said earlier this week on his twitter account he will soon make a college choice.

Texas A&M appears to be the frontrunne,r but several others, including Alabama and Georgia, are also in the mix. Johnson grabbed 32 receptions for nearly 700 yards and nine touchdowns last season, while finishing with 72 tackles — 53 solo — and six interceptions as one of the leaders on the Flyers defensive unit.

Junior Keantez Lewis is also back after catching 21 passes for six touchdowns last season.

Up front, the Flyers are led by 6-3, 340-pound Tennessee recruit Javontez Spraggins while Johnson and University of Missouri recruit Kevon Billingsley (6-4, 244) will be mainstays on defense.

Billingsley is a transfer from Lutheran North High School.