The 2012 prep football season was the year the stars came out in Mercer County, as the Golden Eagles soared to a 14-0 finish and their first Class 2A state championship.|
Now, Mercer County head coach Nat Zunkel and two of the key members of that state-title team will be hitting the road together again,nearly eight months after their 14-7 win over Belleville Althoff in Champaign. Zunkel and senior standouts Tanner Matlick and Zach Nelson were tabbed for this summer's Illinois High School Shrine Game in Bloomington.
"It's certainly a terrific honor," Zunkel said. "It's a way to continue to build our program and our reputation throughout the state."
The 39th annual Shrine Game will kick off at 5:30 p.m. on July 13, at Tucci Stadium on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus and will pit the West All-Stars against the East All-Stars.
Zunkel (42-6 in four years at Mercer County) will be an assistant on the West team's coaching staff, with quarterback Matlick and defensive back Nelson joined on the West roster by fellow area standouts Erie-Prophetstown's Zach Inskeep, Rockridge's Cody McKillip, Orion's Dylan Schultz and Annawan-Wethersfield's Michael Smith.
Tabbed as a defensive back for his 67 tackles and three interceptions last fall, Nelson also was a top-flight running back who racked up nearly 1,000 yards on the ground to counter the passing of Matlick, who threw for 21 touchdowns, ran for 10 more and compiled over 2,200 yards and earn 2A All-State honors. Both were first-team All-Lincoln Trail Conference honors.
Smith also earned All-LTC and 2A All-State honors after anchoring the front line for an A-W club that finished 10-2 and reached the 2A quarterfinals for the first time in four years.
Inskeep was a 3A All-Stater and a first-team All-Big Rivers Conference pick after his play both sides of the ball helped the Panthers to a 5-5 finish and their first playoff appearance in a decade.
First-team All-West Central Conference pick McKillip, bound for Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, was the anchor of a line for a Rocket team that went 7-3 and reached the playoffs for the third straight year. Fellow All-WCC pick and 2A All-Stater Schultz tallied over 1,500 total yards to help the Chargers to a 6-5 finish and the second round of the 2A playoffs.
Other selections to the West team included Sterling Newmanend Kyle Moore, Galesburg offensive lineman Derek Brackett and Quincy defensive lineman Clay Finklea.
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