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EAST ST. LOUIS • It took 17 years, but Darren Sunkett has finally done it.

He hired a kicking coach.

The longtime coach of the East St. Louis football team, Sunkett has been a proponent of taking his chances going for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown. He had a change of heart after East St. Louis lost its Class 7A quarterfinal matchup with Mount Carmel 21-18 as the Flyers were unable to convert any of their three 2-point attempts.

“It's a pretty good bet (to go for two), but after losing a quarterfinal game you felt you should have won by two extra points it makes you kind of reconsider some things,” Sunkett said. “Hopefully we can get it done.”

Mark Wiggins was brought on staff to add another dimension to the Flyers, who are poised to get plenty done this fall. East St. Louis is the No. 2 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.

Talent is rarely an issue for Illinois' winningest program. This season is no different. East St. Louis returns three starters from its offensive line, its starting running back and two starting receivers from a team that went 10-2 a year ago.

Senior center Devon Hunt (6-foot-2, 260 pounds), senior left tackle Demond Taylor (6-3, 255) and senior right tackle Darrell Simmons Jr. (6-4, 290) all are Division I recruits. Hunt has committed to Illinois State. Taylor is headed to Northern Illinois and Simmons pledged to Iowa State. They're joined by junior Javontez Spraggins (6-3, 346)

Junior DeMonta Witherspoon (5-11, 190) was forced into a starting role due to injury last season. He rushed for 346 yards and six touchdowns. Junior receivers Lawaun Powell Jr. (6-1, 175) and Antonio Johnson (6-3, 170) both are Division I prospects. Powell caught 37 passes for 596 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. Sophomore Keantez Lewis (6-2, 170) is expected to be an impact player, too. He's starting to generate interest at Division I level as well.

New to the varsity is sophomore quarterback Tyler Macon (6-0, 180). Sunkett offered high praise for his young quarterback.

“Tyler is an athlete. When you see him he's going to put you in the mindset of (former quarterback) Reyondus Estes, that leader, that will to win,” Sunkett said. “We feel we have a very good competitor and a lot of skill at quarterback.”

The defensive line and linebackers are expected to be a strength. Up front is where you'll find Taylor, a two-way regular his entire career. Sophomore nose tackle Brian Bonnett (6-2, 250) and sophomore defensive end Kendrick Scarborough (6-0, 233) are expected to provide plenty of pop.

Senior Cameroon Clay (6-3, 200) started last year at linebacker where he finished with 34 tackles and two sacks. Senior Sydney Houston (6-2, 230) will be at middle linebacker.

The defensive secondary features Powell and Johnson, but will be the biggest question mark for the Flyers in the early going.

“We're a little inexperienced at our corner spot but we'll find ways to mask that until those guys gain some experience throughout the year,” Sunkett said. “We're going to use those guys up front to pressure. Hopefully we can dictate what we want the offense to do and put them in throwing situations and play some type of coverage behind them.”

The schedule once again pits the Flyers against the best they can get. They open the season in the finale of the Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic against Detroit's King High School at 5 p.m. Saturday in Detroit.

“They're very athletic, big, fast, strong. They're well-coached,” Sunkett said. “We have our hands full. We've got to go there and play a solid game in all three phases. We'll see what happens.”

The following week East St. Louis hosts the Gateway Scholars Classic and will tussle with Trinity at 8 p.m. Saturday in the showcase matchup that is expected to put an exclamation point on a full day of high-level high school football. Other matchups include Cardinal Ritter taking on Cahokia, Chaminade playing Chicago Phillips and Lutheran North facing Homewood-Flossmoor.

“We've got a pretty good lineup this year,” Sunkett said. “It's the best of Illinois against the best of Missouri. We want to see what state plays the best football.”

2018 area football schedules

Plan your calendar for the 2018 high school football season, all in one place. For any corrections or additions, please email stats@stltoday.com

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