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Edgy recruiting: 5 underclassmen to watch

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Edgy recruiting: 5 underclassmen to watch

As the recruiting calendar and recruiting in general keeps getting pushed back earlier and earlier, keeping tabs, finding and "discovering" the next big name has never been as important for college coaches.

Here are five underclassmen names to watch this fall and a few more thrown in as a bonus:

Edwardsville junior defensive end AJ Epenesa (6-foot-5, 259 pounds) - Ranked as a four-star recruit and the 23rd-best player in the nation in the Class of 2017 according to Rivals.com, Epenesa already is holding 20-plus verbal scholarship offers and growing by the day. Epenesa is the son of former Iowa Hawkeyes defensive linemen Eppy Epenesa and the family has deep ties to the Hawkeyes program and coaching staff. Epenesa hasn't named any favorites, but Iowa will no question be a major player.

East St. Louis junior  wide receiver Jeff Thomas (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) - Another four-star ranked recruit and the 63rd-best player in the nation according to Rivals.com, Thomas just makes play after play and has a rare mix of speed, exceptional hands and body control. Thomas is also as effective as a defensive back and kick/punt returner for the Flyers and head coach Darren Sunkett. Thomas has offers from schools across the country but for now is looking into Alabama, Missouri and Florida State. He has already made an unofficial visit to Missouri, who also landed his teammate from a season ago - five-star ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., who is already in the defensive linemen rotation this season.

[RELATED - The five top undecided recruits in the Class of 2016]

Neuqua Valley junior wide receiver Isaiah Robertson (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) - Also a four-star ranked recruit according to Rivals.com, Robertson has a handful of offers so far, including Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and Wisconsin and I fully expect that list to grow sooner rather than later. Robertson - who also showed exceptional tools playing both receiver and safety for the Wildcats this season - has a great frame, terrific speed and hands and will get bigger and strong at the next level. 

St. Viator junior tight end Cole Kmet (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) - Kmet, who is the son of former Hersey and Purdue defensive end Frank Kmet has all the tools to develop into an elite level player. Kmet - who will add more size at the next level - already possesses exceptional ball skills, body control and speed. Kmet already has several major offers and is looking hard these days at both Notre Dame and Ohio State. He camped with both the Fighting Irish and the Buckeyes and has offers from both schools. 

Brother Rice junior wide receiver Ricky Smalling (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) - Rival high school coaches are already raving about Smalling this season. Smalling, who is a three-star ranked recruit according to Rivals.com has a handful of offers this fall, including Illinois, Virginia and Wisconsin. This past summer, Smalling worked with former Illinois wide receiver and HeroH founder Chris James and saw his game take off. Smalling has taken that hard work to the field in helping the Crusaders to a 2-0 start. Much like the others listed here, Smalling can play multiple positions at the next level.

Four more underclassmen to watch

Mount Carmel sophomore athlete Houston Griffith (6-foot-0, 189 pounds)
Warren Township sophomore wide receiver Micah Jones (6-foot-4, 189 pounds)
Rockford Auburn junior offensive tackle Verderian Lowe (6-foot-5, 330 pounds)
Jacobs junior quarterback Chris Katernick (6-foot-2, 195 pounds)

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

The Class 1A and 2A regionals begin this week and the regular season is finishing up for every other team in the state. We're getting that much closer to state titles being decided in Peoria. Simeon remains the clear No. 1 in the latest Power Rankings after beating No. 4 Whitney Young and No. 2 Orr by double digits on the way to earning a third straight Public League Playoff title, while a couple of familiar faces are back in the tail end of the rankings.

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- Simeon stays at No. 1 after winning the Public League Playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Wolverines have now defeated teams No. 2 through No. 6 in the Preps Power Rankings for a 6-0 record on the season in which the average margin of victory has been 14.5 points per game. The clear No. 1 in the state of Illinois, Simeon has the week off before the Class 4A playoffs.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- Orr put up a good fight but they ultimately fell short to No. 1 Simeon in the Public League Playoff title game. The Spartans did gain revenge on No. 3 Curie, however, with a big semifinal win on Friday. Orr has to forget the title loss ahead of the Class 2A Playoffs that begin this week as the Spartans try to repeat as champions.

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The Condors have only lost to No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to in-state losses as they remain one of the most complete and balanced teams in the state. Curie has the week off before the IHSA Playoffs.

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- Whitney Young earned a huge quarterfinal win over Morgan Park before falling to Simeon in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Dolphins also have the week off before they attempt to repeat as Class 4A champions. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) Disappointing result for the Mustangs as they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Public League Playoffs to Whitney Young. Defending champions in Class 3A, the Mustangs will rest this week before the playoffs begin.

6. Fenwick (18-7, 8-0) (8) -- The Friars earned two wins during the week as they beat Marmion while also getting a huge conference road win at Loyola. Fenwick will battle Taft during the week.

7. New Trier (22-3, 8-1) (9) -- New Trier had one of the best weeks of any team in the area as they picked up wins over Maine South and Evanston. Now the leaders in the rugged CSL South, the Trevians have some more tough games against Niles North and Glenbrook North this week. 

8. Evanston (20-5, 8-2) (6) -- Evanston's red-hot recent play was finally slowed down as they fell to rival New Trier. The Wildkits will try to bounce back when they play Vernon Hills in a Central Suburban crossover this week.

9. Oak Park-River Forest (21-5, 12-0) (11) -- The Huskies finished the West Suburban Silver season unbeaten following wins over York and Proviso West. OPRF gets a great test right before the playoffs when they face Hinsdale South in the West Suburban championship game.

10. Benet (21-4) (6-1) (12) -- Two wins for the Redwings this week when they beat Joliet Catholic and Stevenson. Things aren't easy for Benet this week as they head to Marian Catholic before hosting Carmel in two tough ESCC games. 

11. West Aurora (19-4, 8-0) (13) -- The winning streak is now 11 for the Blackhawks after beating South Elgin. West Aurora will play Bartlett and crosstown rival East Aurora this week as they try to keep the momentum going into the playoffs. 

12. Marist (23-4, 6-2) (15) -- Marist picked up a double-digit win over St. Patrick during the week as they prepare for the Class 4A draw. The RedHawks will have an ESCC game against Marian Central this week. 

13. Niles North (22-4, 5-4) (8) -- The Vikings fell to CSL South rival Maine South and followed that up with an overtime win over a tough Wisconsin team in St. Catherine's. The Vikings get a crack at conference leader New Trier this week before playing Maine West in a tough Central Suburban crossover. 

14. Marian Catholic (20-4, 5-3) (16) -- Three wins for the Spartans during the week as they knocked off Nazareth, Rich Central and Marian Central. Marian Catholic gets a tough test this week when they host Benet in its final ESCC game.

15. Naperville North (23-2, 14-1) (17) -- The Huskies have won eight straight games as they clinched at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference with a win over Waubonsie Valley this week. Naperville North hosts Wheaton-Warrenville South this week to decide the DVC title.

16. DePaul Prep (20-6, 5-3) (19) -- Picking up a convincing double-digit win over Mount Carmel, the Rams got back on track after the loss to Brother Rice. DePaul Prep will host Montini during the week as they prepare for Class 3A. 

17. Loyola (21-6, 5-3) (10) -- Tough recent stretch for the Ramblers as they fell to St. Joseph and Fenwick to fall out of the Catholic League Blue race. Loyola hosts Steinmetz for a tune-up this week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (21) -- Hillcrest survived a tight win over T.F. North before winning convincingly against Oak Forest. The Hawks have the week off as they prep for Class 3A. 

19. Leo (19-5, 8-0) (22) -- Finishing the regular season with a big win over Marmion, the Lions will be one of the area teams to watch in the Class 2A playoffs as they are in the Marshall Regional. 

20. Homewood-Flossmoor (16-6, 7-1) (23) -- Another huge win for Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings took down Bolingbrook to keep a lead in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Homewood-Flossmoor goes on the road this week to battle Sandburg and Lockport. 

21. Hinsdale South (20-5, 10-2) (24) -- The Hornets stayed hot with wins over Addison Trail and Proviso East as they clinched the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South has a tough battle against Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban championship game this week. 

22. St. Viator (22-5, 8-0) (25) -- The Lions picked up some wins against Carmel and Bartlett. St. Viator will try to close out the ESCC with an undefeated record when they play Nazareth this week. 

23. Bolingbrook (17-6, 5-3) (18) -- Bolingbrook fell out of the SouthWest Suburban Blue conference race when they lost to Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders still have some tough games to close out the regular season when they play Lincoln-Way East and Stagg.

24. Maine South (20-7, 6-4) (NR) -- Huge win for Maine South as they knocked off Niles North after losing to New Trier in overtime earlier in the week. The Hawks close out the regular season with a Central Suburban Crossover against Highland Park.

25. Willowbrook (22-5, 9-3) (NR) -- Willowbrook is back in the rankings by earning three double-digit wins over Morton, Leyden and Downers South. The Warriors have only lost to ranked teams like West Aurora and Hinsdale South lately as they've been playing well. 

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title