East St. Louis Senior High football coach Darren Sunkett has taken his teams around the country to play the best competition during his tenure with the Flyers.
As well as playing in the rugged Southwestern Conference, the Flyers play a non-conference schedule that has to be admired. East St. Louis will open the 2019 campaign against Illinois perennial power Batavia on Saturday. The Flyers will then take on one of the best teams in Missouri in Trinity Catholic, followed by a game against another top Illinois team in Nequa Valley.
“It’s something that we take pride within our program here at East St. Louis,” Sunkett said. “We are willing to play anybody that wants to put on the pads and play.”
For Coach Sunkett and his staff, Batavia presents an excellent opening-game challenge this weekend. Head coach Dennis Piron has compiled a record of 85-12 at Batavia, including state championships in 2013 and 2017. Batavia returns nine starters from a team that advanced to the Class 7A semifinals last season, losing to Nazareth Academy.
The Bulldogs will rely on senior running back/linebacker Quinn Urwiler, who has committed to North Dakota. In addition, the Bulldogs also feature running back Art Taylor and a pair of imposing tight ends in 6’7” Taylor Lutzwig and 6’8” Devin Cheaney.
However, Batavia will have its hands full as the Flyers’ roster has nine Division 1 football prospects to date. The Flyers are led by defensive back/wide receiver Antonio Johnson, who is rated as the top senior in his class by Rivals.com in the state of Illinois. The two-way star has offers on the table from Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas A&M and – you get the message.
Joining Johnson on offense is sensational wide out Lawaun Powell Jr., who had 33 receptions for 727 yards and nine touchdowns before being injured in last year’s state playoffs. Powell has narrowed his college choices to Illinois, Nebraska and Purdue.
Junior quarterback Tyler Macon also returns after a big sophomore season. The smooth dual-threat quarterback is one of the best in the Midwest. He is being recruited by several top collegiate programs as well. The offensive line will be anchored by senior Javontez Spraggins (6’4”, 340 pounds), a Tennessee recruit who is one of the top lineman in the state.
Defensively, Johnson will be one of the leaders at safety, but the Flyers will also rely on senior defensive end/linebacker Kevon Billingsley, a 6’4” 235-pounder who committed to the University of Missouri.
“Kevon is so versatile,” Sunkett said. “You can stand him up and play linebacker or he can line up and play defensive end. He’s just a kid that you can move around the field and opposing offenses will have to know where he’s at.”
Other notable Flyers include senior wide out Keontez Lewis, Dominic Lovett and offensive lineman Tyres Williams and Brian Bonnett.
The East St. Louis Flyers have a sour taste in their mouths after losing in consecutive years to Chicago Mt. Carmel in the Illinois Class 7A state playoffs. East Side is poised to make a run for a state championship in 2019.