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East St. Louis faces Belleville West in season opener of Illinois spring football season

"We’re just ready to get out there and play some football. It’s awesome because we get to open up against one of our rivals, and it’s a great game”
Credit: KSDK

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — On Friday, the East St. Louis Flyers will take the field to face the Belleville West Maroons in the 2021 season opener of the alternate spring football season.

The abbreviated season will consist of six games for most schools across the state: five regular season games and one final round-robin game within conference play. 

There are no playoffs for Illinois teams this spring.

Belleville West is coming off a 3-6 record in the 2019 regular season schedule, with its final loss to CBC on Oct. 25. 

Three of the Maroons’ nine games in 2019 were against Missouri high school teams. Of course, that will be different in 2021.

Illinois high school teams in the Metro East are in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan. High-risk sports in Phase 4 allow competition to be played within conference and region or out-of-region within 30 miles. 

Twenty-percent of the venue’s capacity can be filled with spectators beginning Friday night.

The team box may be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines to allow for more social distancing space for the teams.

Players are required to wear cloth face coverings under their helmets; plastic shields that cover the entire face are not allowed.

Officials will be asked to take his/her temperature in the morning and then again prior to leaving home/work for a game. If the temperature is above 100.3 degrees, they are recommended to notify the school’s administration that is hosting the game.

Schools will operate under local COVID-19 protocols and guidelines created by the school district or local health officials.

Belleville West head football coach Brian Edgar said the Maroons are simply grateful to have a season after months of waiting.

“I think it’s been over like 400 days since we’ve gotten to play a game, and the kids have been awesome,” Edgar said. “It’s been a lot of Google meets, a lot of Zoom meetings to stay engaged with them, and they’ve been awesome. The coaching staff has been awesome. We’re just ready to get out there and play some football. It’s awesome because we get to open up against one of our rivals, and it’s a great game.”

Meanwhile, East St. Louis is taking the field following a 14-0 record in the 2019 season. 

After winning the Class 6A state title in 2019, the Flyers looked to return to the field in 2020 with high hopes, but they would have to wait. 

In November 2020, East St. Louis Flyers head coach Darren Sunkett rallied in Springfield, Illinois, in the “Let Us Play” rally. 

Illinois was one of 20 state high school athletic associations that moved football out of its traditional fall season. The move affected many Metro East teams that typically compete against high-caliber high school teams in Missouri. 

East St. Louis will take the field in 2021 with help from Oklahoma Sooners commit Luther Burden Jr. who transferred from Cardinal Ritter to finish out his high school career with the Flyers.

The five-star wide receiver caught 31 passes for 895 yards and scored 13 touchdowns as Cardinals Ritter advanced to the Class 3 semifinals for the second time in three seasons during the fall’s pandemic-shortened season. 

Edgar said regardless of the changes this season, schools are grateful to simply take the field at all. 

“The message is just focusing on the in-house things we’ve been working on the whole time,” Edgar said. “There’s a lot of things out of our control, and I think the young men have learned that, and they’re awesome. They’ve dealt with a bunch of adversity, so the title of this week has just been ‘executing.’ That’s all we’ve been focusing on. The team that executes the best is probably the team that comes out on top.” 

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Belleville West High School.