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January 5, 2011

Flyers still feel the sting of forfeited season

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SAN ANTONIO - It's been two months since East St. Louis (Ill.) High was kicked out - then put back in - then again kicked out of the Illinois state football playoffs.

But the memory is still fresh, defensive back Glenn Faulkner said.

"People still talk about it," he said. "People still haven't gotten over it."

Faulkner, who will participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl this weekend, said it was a bittersweet ending to what could have been a storybook season for the school and the city.

"We were 10-0," he said. "To me, we had the state title in the bag. No one could compete with our speed."

The only thing that slowed the team all season were rulings by the Illinois High School Association and - eventually - the courts as eligibility issues forced the school to the sidelines. (read full exploits)

The school was ruled out of the playoffs, but received a temporary injunction, allowing it to play its first playoff game. The injunction, however, was lifted before the second round.

Faulkner said the court rulings did more for team unity than the victories.

"It kind of brought us together as a team, as a family," he said. "At first, we weren't all on the same page. But when (the ruling) first came out, it brought us together. No one missed practice. We were all together."

East St. Louis has long been a power in Illinois. This team, however, appeared to be something special.

It not only had talent, it showed the type of teamwork (and recorded enough quality out-of-state victories) to move up high in the national rankings - something that had been lacking on the resume of previous East St. Louis teams.

It opened the year with a win over Indianapolis (Ind.) Cathedral, 31-22. Cathedral went on to win the Indiana Class 4A state title.

In week two, it showcased its speed with an impressive 51-7 rout of Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard.

Only one team in Illinois was able to stay within 30 points.

East St. Louis climbed the RivalsHigh Top 100 all season - and was at No. 19 (and seemingly poised for a potential Top 10 finish) when it was forced to forfeit the season. The turn of events knocked the team out of the final rankings altogether.

This reversal of fortune cut deep. And not just on the team or at the school.

"When people first found out, everyone was down and dragging," he said. "I'm not talking about the team or the school but the whole town. Football is very important in East St. Louis.

"Then they let us back in and we all thought, 'Great, we're going to win it all.' Then the next week, coach called us together and gave us the news."

Faulkner, however, said the ruling didn't take away the team's new-found unity.

The seniors, who lost in the state final as juniors, made it their mission to make sure the underclassmen would work to get the mission accomplished.

"We had to talk to the freshmen, let them know they still have three more years," he said.

Faulkner, the No. 1 recruit in Illinois, is committed to Kentucky next season. But he says it will be a long time before he - or anyone associated with that team - will forget about the crazy ending to their season.

He said: "I feel it's going to be the legacy of our class: We could have won it all."

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