East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett is in an enviable position. He is blessed with tremendous athleticism throughout his lineup year after year. Terry Hawthorne and Tommie Hopkins signed with Illinois and will be freshmen this fall. And Kraig Appleton and Ty Phillips also signed with high major colleges.
But they return their quarterback and top running back from last year. Sunkett says they both have major college scholarship offers.
"They are talented guys. Wray has already been offered by Nebraska, Illinois and the University of Arizona to play quarterback. And Molton has been offered by the University of Arizona. So they have bright futures."
Detchauz Wray will be a three year starter at quarterback. He has a strong arm, quick feet and good leadership skills. And he has a confident presence in the huddle. He is listed at 6'-0" and 180 pounds, but he is likely an inch or two shorter than that.
Courtney Molton starred at running back last fall. He is shorter than his listed 5'-9" height, but he makes up for it with tremendous quickness and moves. And he proved capable of pounding for tough inside yardage despite weighing no more than 180 pounds. Molton seems to have a big smile on his face at all times, making him even more appealing according to Sunkett.
"Courtney is a very personable kid. You can't help but like the kid. He's a fun kid to be around. He really added power running to his game this year. His sophomore year, he was more of an edge runner. But with our other tailback (Robert) Arterbridge going down early, we let Courtney know we needed him to also run inside. He took on the challenge and stepped up big in some big games this year."
Wray and Molton are not the only upcoming seniors capable of receiving major college scholarship offers.
"We've got fullback Chris Murphy that Illinois and Wisconsin are both looking at. And our nose guard Aaron Howard is being looked at by some Big 10 and Big 12 schools. We have some talented guys who are going to get some Division 1 scholarships this year."
Upcoming junior Vincent Arterbridge was expected to be the starting tailback last fall before an injury set him back. He returned in time for the playoffs and showed tremendous straight ahead speed in the championship game. But he was not ready to supplant Molton.
"After being out 9-10 games, it's tough coming back for the playoffs. He was a little rusty. At times, you saw glimpses of what he could do on the football field.
"He's gotten a lot stronger this offseason, and we're gonna have the Artebridge back that we had his freshman year. He's about 6'-3" and 215. He can definitely beat you in the open field. Molton is still the number one man, but we're gonna try to get Arterbridge 12-15 carries a game."
Possibly the best college prospect and potential superstar is upcoming junior Keante Minor. Sunkett expects the 6'-2", 190 pound Minor to be the go-to receiver this fall.
"Keante Minor is in the mold of Kraig Appleton. He pretty much reminds me of Kraig. He can stretch the field vertically, and he has great leaping ability to go up and get jump balls. We're not looking for much of a dropoff.
"I know it sounds crazy when we're trying to replace two All-American receivers, but we feel that Minor is definitely capable of stepping in to help replace Appleton's and Hawthorne's legacy."
Minor played tight end last year and made a leaping touchdown grab in the state championship game. But tight end is not his best position.
"He's a wide receiver. We didn't have a tight end, so in pass situations we put our three best guys on the field. So we put him in there an awful lot of times."
Minor is equally talented in basketball. But Sunkett believes he knows what sport Minor prefers.
"I'm thinking it's definitely football. Right now, he's leaning more towards football."
Charles Tigue (6'-4", 220) is a talented defensive end, but he was not a freshman this year as some reported.
"He's a sophomore," Sunkett explains. "I don't know how he got mixed up as a freshman. He has his things to work on, but having him back on the defensive line is definitely a plus. He played well for us in spurts. Actually, he's very young, and he had his ups and downs during his sophomore year."
There is another upcoming junior defensive lineman that Sunkett is even more excited about.
"We have a defensive tackle Clint Tucker who we feel will be an All-American by the time his senior year comes around. He's a 6'-2, 280 pound defensive tackle for us who runs a 4.9 forty. He's just a great athlete. We expect big things from him this year."
Sunkett has another receiver being groomed to replace Hawthorne and Appleton.
"We also have Jylon Spraggins, who caught a lot of balls for us last year. He's gonna play on the other side of Minor. We're definitely gonna miss Appleton and Hawthorne, but Spraggins and Minor will step right in and make those guys proud."
Those in the area of Champaign-Urbana June 20 will want to check out the Illini 7 on 7 camp on campus as East St. Louis will be a prominent participant. And on paper they are the favorite to repeat as state champs. But Sunkett is not ready to declare victory.
"Well, these guys still have to prove it on the field. They're really talented, but we'll find out August 29th when that opening whistle blows."