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.
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)