East St. Louis

No coasting allowed: why some football programs schedule to play "up"

No coasting allowed: why some football programs schedule to play "up"

While many IHSA football programs across the state continue to face various scheduling issues, some of the top programs are still finding ways to play the best possible opponents. It's a matter of scheduling "up" and not "down." Here are some Illinois high school programs who are loading up on their respective non-conference schedule:

East St. Louis: The Flyers (1-1) took its first loss of the year on Saturday night to nationally-ranked Evangel Christian 14-6. But don't be fooled by the final result. East St. Louis was able to compete for four quarters against an Eagles team that featured three LSU commits and an overall roster stocked with top underclassmen talent. This matchup was part of the annual Gateway Scholars Football Classic which featured three local teams (Cahokia, Belleville West and East St. Louis) against three of the top out of state programs in the country (New Jersey's Camden and Timber Creek, along with Louisiana's Evangel Christian). The day-long event was packed with fans and featured several local restaurants, a children's play area and a great overall festival atmosphere. 

Unlike so many other Illinois teams who are forced to seek out of state opponents to fill scheduling issues, the Flyers actively seek out nationally-ranked programs to take part in the Classic, a process that begins a year or two in advance. If any school could make a case for actually moving up in the in-state polls after a hard-fought game and loss to a national power, it could very well be the Flyers. I seriously doubt that the Flyers will see another team the rest of the season with as much raw talent and speed on the field than what Evangel Christian brought to Clyde C. Jordan Stadium on Saturday night.

Crete-Monee: You'll be hard-pressed to find another program that stacks its non-conference schedule better than Crete-Monee (1-1) does under head coach John Konecki. The Warriors lost in the opening week to the state's top ranked team in Lincoln-Way East; however, they pulled off (arguably) the program's biggest non-conference regular season win in defeating Brother Rice 33-25 last Friday. The Warriors will get a taste of out-of-state competition this Friday night when they travel to Purdue's Ross Ade Stadium against West Lafayette High School. 

Phillips: The Wildcats (2-0) under head coach Troy McAllister also "play up" when it comes to the non-conference schedule, including this season with wins over 8A power Loyola Academy (1-1) and last Friday in Oak Lawn over 6A power Richards (1-1). Phillips, who has been a low 4A-sized program until petitioning up to play in Class 5A for the next two seasons, has also defeated the likes of Fenwick, Carmel and Naperville North in recent years. Phillips will also get its annual Chicago Public League battle with Simeon this Saturday night at Gately Stadium-- a game that has become a must-see in the CPL.

Providence Catholic: The Celtics (0-2) have played two straight defending state champions to start this season in East St. Louis and St. John Vianney (Missouri), both losses. Providence Catholic has always challenged itself when it comes to the non-conference schedule. In recent years, those early test have paid off while at other times the tough schedule has played a factor in keeping the Celtics out of the state playoff field. Providence Catholic will need to turn up the heat this week hosting CCL Blue rival St. Rita (2-0) in what could be a must-win scenario. 

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week Three Power Rankings]

Maine South: The defending 8A state champs opened the season at Glenbard West then hosted Lincoln-Way East. And the Hawks (1-1) didn't exactly pump the brakes on the rigid non-conference slate after scheduling those two opponents. Mid-Suburban conference foes are lurking over the next two weeks: Fremd (0-2) and then Palatine (1-1).

Lake Zurich: The Bears (2-0) are another program that doesn't shy away from from competition in non-conference play. They posted good wins over solid football programs in Fremd (0-2) and last Friday over Montini Catholic (1-1).

Lincoln-Way East: The Griffins (2-0) were able to get strong wins over 6A power Crete-Monee and the previous top-ranked team, Maine South. They open up conference play this Friday night in Tinley Park against Andrew (1-1).
 

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez commits to Navy

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez commits to Navy

Christian Perez (QB), East St. Louis

East St. Louis quarterback Christian Perez (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) decided to end his recruiting process this week and give Navy his verbal commitment.

"It's a really big decision and I just felt very comfortable with the coaches at Navy," Perez said. "They easily recruited me the hardest out of anyone plus Navy offers so many opportunities on and off the field. Both of my parents are in the Air Force so in many ways I've been around the military my entire life. I fully understand the commitment both before the academy and after graduation at Navy. It's great to know that I'll have a job and a potential career path waiting for me after the Naval Academy.

"Navy also offers a great education and top academics along with a great football team. It's just a tremendous overall opportunity that I just didn't want to miss out on."

Alec Pierce (WR), Glenbard West

Glenbard West senior wide receiver Alec Pierce (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) has added multiple offers this summer, but don't look for a quick college decision just yet.

"I'm looking at taking my recruiting process into the season," Pierce said. "A lot of schools, especially schools in the Big Ten all want to see my early senior video. I already have some great offers and options but I also feel that I want to give some of those other schools a better look. I'm willing to wait until they get a chance to evaluate me this fall. I believe I can play at the highest level in college and I want to make sure I give myself every opportunity."

[RELATED: Noah Shannon pledges to Iowa]

Alante Brown (QB), Simeon

Simeon junior quarterback Alante Brown (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is already holding two early scholarship offers and has increased recruiting attention this summer.

"I have two offers from NIU and Toledo so far," Brown said. "I'm planning to go to Miami of Ohio this coming Friday for a camp and a visit. I have also camped at Illinois and NIU so far this summer. Also this coming weekend I'm going to visit Purdue, Central Michigan and Western Michigan."

Aaron Antoniou (OLB), Hinsdale Central

Outside linebacker Aaron Antoniou (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) has transferred back to Hinsdale Central for his senior year after spending last season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

"I was playing on second string as a strong safety and also playing on special teams at IMG last year," Antoniou said. "After looking at everything I decided along with my family that coming back home for my senior year was my best decision. I'm just excited to be back home and back with kids that I already know and playing for my home school. This year I'm looking at playing some defensive end and linebacker for my team this season and I'm excited to be back at Hinsdale Central. It feels good to be back home for sure."

Antoniou has drawn recruiting interest from the likes of Minnesota, Illinois, Western Illinois and UMass. 

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez transfers to East St. Louis

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez transfers to East St. Louis

Bryce Effner (OT), Metea Valley

Metea Valley junior offensive tackle Bryce Effner (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock rise this winter. Effner has scholarship offers from Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan and Toledo. Effner is also drawing attention from several other schools.

"I've been starting to hear from new schools such as Michigan State, Colorado State and North Dakota State," Effner said. "North Carolina just invited me to a Junior Day and Syracuse also just requested my academic information. I'm also looking at visiting Penn State, Duke and possibly Iowa State and LSU later this spring."

Christian Perez (QB), East St. Louis

Defending Class 7A state champion East St. Louis added a new student in the building when former O'Fallon junior quarterback Christian Perez (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) transferred in last week. Perez, who is considered one of the top quarterbacks in Illinois in the Class of 2018, explained why he made the move.

"My dad moved back to East St. Louis," Perez said. "It's a chance to spend more time with my dad. It's something that I'm really excited about. I have family already in the community and I'm just thankful and excited to start my first day at East St. Louis."

Perez, who was a two-year starter for O'Fallon, has drawn recruiting looks and interest from several Big Ten and Mid American Conference schools.

Jaylan Alexander (OLB), Hoffman Estates

Hoffman Estates junior outside linebacker Jaylan Alexander (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) was able to add two recent scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Illinois State. Alexander made a recent Junior Day event visit to Northern Illinois and came away impressed with the Huskies.

"I've been to NIU a few times before and I went to a game last season so I was already pretty familiar with NIU," Alexander said. "The NIU coaches had been in touch and really seemed excited about me and wanted to make sure I came out to visit. I like what NIU has to offer. They have a nice school and they also have been a winning program over the years. NIU offered me as a linebacker but they also like me as an athlete. They feel I can be a pretty versatile player for them."

 Alexander has also drawn steady recruiting interest this winter from Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Wyoming and South Dakota.

Marquis Burks (DE), Curie

Curie junior defensive end Marquis Burks (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) has the look, physical tools and upside to become a highly sought after recruit in the Class of 2018. Burks, who is playing linebacker this winter for the HeroH travel 7-on7- squad, already has one early offer and lots of interested college programs.

"I still have an offer from Toledo," Burks said. "Besides Toledo, I'm also in touch with UCLA, NIU, Central Michigan, Missouri, Bowling Green, Pitt and Minnesota. Those schools and some smaller schools are all showing interest. They all love my junior tape and want me to stay in touch."