On Wikipedia, you’ll see that the magazine Family Circle listed Edwardsville as the third best town in America to raise a family. It’s also arguably in the running for the best town in the midwest to raise a football player. The Tigers are a legitimate powerhouse in the St. Louis area and south of I-80 (Chicago area) in Illinois. Lincoln-Way East head coach, Zvonar even claimed that Matt Martin is “one of the best coaches in the state every year hands down.” In my opinion, that’s a fact. The Tigers are 75-26 under Martin whose been at the helm since 2010. Edwardsville has qualified for the playoffs for eight straight seasons, and in the last three years, they’ve made it to at least the quarterfinals in the IHSA Class 8A playoffs.
Justin Johnson (163 carries, 1,048 yards, 13 TDs)
Reed Kaburick (6-3, 250-lbs)
Blake Moss (5-9, 210-lbs)
Mason Ahlers (6-2, 220-lbs)
Llyod Reynolds (5-10, 250-lbs)
Cameron Kirkpatrick (6-4, 225-lbs)
Gone is Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who is a wide receiver now at Notre Dame. Like him and A.J. Epenesa, the Tigers have another star that will light up the St. Louis region. His name is Justin Johnson. A 5-11, 190-pound junior running back, Johnson overtook two competent backs and established himself as one of the best 2021’s in all of Illinois. He is really going to be something special these next two years, and every game will be a privilege to watch him. The Tigers return a variety of starters that helped block for KAR and Johnson in a very much run-based offense. However, that won’t be the case as much with new junior quarterback Ryan Hampton taking over the reins. A pocket quarterback, but has some athleticism as to keep defenses guessing a little bit. It’ll probably take him some time to get his feet wet, but the Tigers should be fine with the core of their primary offensive weapons back. The defense is looking bright after returning, three linebackers, Morrissey, Ramirez, and Epenesa (younger brother of AJ). Expect significant years out of all three of them. Mason Ahlers and Llyod Reynolds will be on the defensive line, and Ethan Young is a talented, experienced cornerback who will provide a calming influence in the secondary.
Diagnosis: A sensible question to ask: what if somebody limits Johnson and forces Edwardsville to air it out? It’s Edwardsville. They probably don’t have a speed freak, but always have capable receivers if needed despite not one standing out at this point. Again, you’d rather reload in the trenches than rebuild in the athlete department, and that rings especially true with the Tigers. The Southwestern Conference will be tougher overall this season with Alton, O’Fallon, Belleville East and West all improving/staying competitive, and that doesn’t include East St. Louis who might be in another world. But if you give Matt Martin and his staff time, they can figure out several ways to destroy you. One thing for sure is Edwardsville will be one of the hardest hitting teams around. This team is very fundamentally sound and translate their talent exceptionally well every year it seems, and this season should be no different. A 7 or 8-win regular season is very realistic. By the time playoffs come around who knows in 8A, but if the line does their job for Johnson and Hampton improves after every game then I’m betting it’s another quarterfinals or better team.