East St. Louis high school quarterback Reyondous Estes has seen Cornell Ford many times throughout his three years of high school, recruiting teammates Greg Taylor, Natereace Strong, Terry Beckner Jr. and Tre’Vour Simms –- all current Mizzou players.
Despite being committed to Western Michigan since February, he was waiting for an opportunity to be next in line in Columbia.
Barry Odom and Ford finally extended the long-awaited offer in late July, and on Wednesday, Estes called Odom, who knew before he answered his phone what Estes was calling about: he’d chosen to commit to Mizzou.
“He jumped on the phone with a lot of excitement,” Estes said. “He was basically telling me he was excited for me to be a part of the family and on-board finally. He’d been waiting on it.”
Estes became Missouri’s 12th commitment of its 2017 class, which is currently ranked 49 in Rivals’ team recruiting rankings.
As Ford passed through East St. Louis through the years, Estes noticed how genuine he was. Ford made an effort to know the players he was recruiting, and his efforts with Estes heavily picked up throughout July.
“He came to me as a man instead of a recruiter and let me know what it was,” Estes said. “He’s in your face, makes sure you talk, and makes sure you’re having a good day — keeping a smile on your face.”
Estes almost lost the opportunity to play for his dream school, or even play football ever again.
In 2015, Estes was in the middle of his second season as a starter for East St. Louis before a great deal of adversity struck him and the program. The teachers at the school went on strike, and the football team was forced to forfeit the rest of its games for the season.
During the strike, Estes was involved in a car accident. After striking a parked car while driving his mother’s van, Estes lost consciousness and was hospitalized. He had a “severe” concussion as a result of the wreck.
Estes is using the misfortune he faced last year as an opportunity to appreciate life and seize the opportunities his final season of high school offered.
“I’m attacking this year like I got another chance at life,” Estes said. “When I did finally come to consciousness, I realized how much football really means to me and my family. It’s a ticket out of East St. Louis.
“I’m attacking this season like a madman.”
Sports Illustrated will follow up last years story by documenting the entire season this year.— Esl FlyersFootball (@Football_Flyers) August 7, 2016
Estes proudly says that no one is harder on him than himself, but he’s embraced the teachings of his coach Darren Sunkett. He had dreams of becoming the Flyers’ quarterback as a freshman but ended up riding the bench for most of the year. He remembered the colder games where he didn’t play, and how it made him think about not coming out for football again. Sunkett continued to stay on Estes about playing football, and once he was fully bought into being the best player he could be, Estes has thrived.
“If I stick with him, he’s going to make some things happen for me and I’m going to be great,” Estes said.
“I came back my sophomore year, and I was the starter. He groomed me to be a quarterback.”
Beyond his guidance on the football field, Estes thinks of Sunkett as a father. Estes goes to him when he’s down, needs advice or just someone to talk to. What Estes really appreciates about Sunkett is how honest he is with his players.
“Without me having a father, he’s that father figure,” Estes said. “You can tell he loves you. It’s always tough love from him, but he lets you understand where the love is coming from.”
Sunkett setting a family-like atmosphere for Estes and the Flyers at school trickles down to the team bonding with itself. Many football teams claim it has “brotherhood” throughout its players, but at East St. Louis, it’s synonymous with Flyer tradition, and it isn’t taken lightly.
“That’s been our legacy for a long time,” Estes said. “We break the huddle with it, we start practice with it and really mean that. The days go on and the stronger we get.
“That’s not a saying, like other schools say. We really mean that.”
Estes took that into consideration when he committed to Mizzou. The family atmosphere is something that many say about the Tigers’ program, and it’s sold to their recruits. Last month, Detroit-area lineman Larry Borom committed after the coaching staff constantly reminded him of the family that the Missouri football team is.
Odom, and especially Ford over the years, have done a good job of conveying that message to East St. Louis recruits. Now that four of them are on scholarship at Mizzou, it’s an easier sell. Still, Estes continued to ask his former teammates about the campus, and so far, there have been nothing but positive reviews.
“If I know they like it, I know I’ll like it,” Estes said. “For them to keep it honest and keep it 100 with me with what’s going on campus, I feel like I did make the right decision from what they were telling me.”
With his recruitment shut down, Estes goes into the season with one goal on his mind: a state championship, which he believes is attainable. After almost having football taken away from him, he believes that he is stronger, faster, smarter and more confident than ever.
“This is the team you want to watch. This is the team you want to be there every Friday because my team is coming hungry,” Estes said. “We feel like we’re going to shock the conference, shock the State of Illinois.”