The month of August is underway and football camps at all levels are in full motion.
At the collegiate level, there are a number of players from the metro east area, who will have a major impact on their respective teams during the 2018 season. In the next few weeks, I will give you a look at my top players from the “618” area code to watch at the collegiate level for the upcoming season.
Here is a look at the First Three:
Terry Beckner Jr. – Defensive lineman: Mizzou
The former East St. Louis Senior High All-American enters his senior season as one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. He turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft early to return to the Tigers.
At 6’4” and 290 pounds, Beckner is considered to be the straw that stirs the drink on the defensive line for the Tigers. His first three seasons at Mizzou have been documented with injuries. However, after finishing strong in the second half of the 2017 season, Beckner finished with 20 tackles, including 11 for losses and seven quarterback sacks.
During the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Beckner discussed how important it was for him to stay local at Mizzou and fulfill his dream of earning his degree on time. It was something he promised himself and his mom after leaving high school.
“Earning my degree was something that I came to college to get done,” Beckner recently told me. “I love the game of football. However, my education means a lot to me at this point in my life.”
Terry Beckner Jr. seems to have everything going for him heading into his senior season. Being more of a vocal leader and staying healthy should land him in the upper rounds of the NFL Draft.
Jeff Thomas, Wide Receiver: University of Miami (The U)
Miami head coach Mark Richt knew when he landed the former Flyers’ All-American wide receiver that he had a playmaker in the making.
Thomas came through with a big freshman year for the Hurricanes, who were in the national championship hunt until late in the season. Richt, along with his coaching staff, labeled Thomas a future star for the Hurricanes.
“Jeff Thomas can be the best slot receiver in the country,” said Miami linebackers coach Jonathan Patke. “When he gets into extra, he’s faster than anybody else out there. He’s a real difference-maker.”
Thomas has really put on some muscle since his freshman year. Now, standing at a legit 5’10” and 180 pounds, the talented receiver now has the look of a more mature college football player.
As a sophomore, Thomas has risen to the No. 1 spot on the Hurricanes’ depth chart. In addition, his maturity has grown off the field.
“Playing for coach Darren Sunkett in a program like East St. Louis, I’ve been taught not to make excuses,” Thomas said. “I’m ready for the season to begin.”
Lester Cotton, Left Guard: Alabama
I’m including Lester because he still has plenty of family and friends that he keeps in touch with in East St. Louis, where he started his career before moving to Alabama and becoming a prep All-American lineman.
Coached by Darren Sunkett and also a teammate of Terry Beckner Jr. on my undefeated freshman basketball team at East Side, Cotton is quietly becoming a key member of Alabama’s offensive line.
Known for his quickness and athletic ability, the 6’4” 324-pound Cotton has played since his freshman year, earning the opportunity to start last season at left guard for the 2018 national champions.
Lester and Terry were very imposing freshman teammates at East St. Louis. The following year, Cotton made the move to Tuscaloosa, where his mother had lived as a child. He was a standout player at Tuscaloosa Central High before signing the Crimson Tide.