Preps Talk

Recruiting News and Notes: Edwardsville's AJ Epenesa visits Missouri


Recruiting News and Notes: Edwardsville's AJ Epenesa visits Missouri

AJ Epenesa (DE), Edwardsville

The junior four-star defensive end made an unofficial gameday visit to Missouri.

"It was exciting," Epenesa told's Brian Austin. "I was really looking forward to going to check out Mizzou and see what they're all about on game day. It was fun being there. The fans were definitely loud and crazy. It was fun to be around. They're a good team, but they had a rough game. Other then the loss it was a really enjoyable visit. I had a good time."

Epenesa (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), the 23rd ranked player in the nation according to's Class of 2017 Top 100 recruit rankings, has 20 scholarship offers so far. 

Jake Marwede (TE), Loyola

The junior tight end was able to add his first offer from Central Michigan last week.

"It's pretty exciting," Marwede said. "I went to a Central Michigan satellite camp last summer in Paw Paw and I was able to get to know the coaches a bit better. I felt I had a pretty good camp and I've been staying in touch with the CMU coaches ever since. I haven't had a chance to make it on campus just yet but I'm planning to visit Central Michigan soon."

Marwede is also drawing recruiting interest from the likes of Penn State, Michigan, Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Vanderbilt and Virginia.

[MORE PREPS: CSN Preps Power Rankings - Week 9]

Matt Norton (TE), Stevenson

Norton (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) was beginning to draw more recruiting looks from DI level colleges this fall, but decided to accept a roster spot invite from Penn last week.

"I just loved it at Penn on my visit," the senior tight end said. "It's more of an urban campus in Philadelphia and it's exactly what I was looking for in a school. I was able to get to know the coaches and the players and everyone was great. I'm planning to to major in business and Penn offers a world class education and an amazing business program. I narrowed it down to Penn or Princeton and in the end it was just the feeling I had at Penn that sealed it for me."

Justin Blake (QB), Montini

One Class of 2016 name to keep an eye on from a recruiting standpoint is Blake (6-foot-0, 180 pounds). Blake, who is playing quarterback for the Broncos this season, has amassed nearly 2,000 yards of total offense heading into this week's game at Marmion Academy.

"I'm still staying in touch with the coaches from NIU, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Western Michigan and Toledo," Blake said. "I was able to go visit NIU, along with Western Illinois already, and I'm trying to find a way to get down to Eastern Illinois soon. The coaches either call or text me once a week and I also keep sending them my updated film each week."

Blake, who played wide receiver last season, is also a high-level caliber athlete who could draw offers at various positions at the college level.

Under Armour All-American Game Fan Vote

Both Lake Park senior defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk (Michigan State) and Nazareth Academy senior defensive back Julian Love (Notre Dame) need your vote. Panasiuk and Love have been added to the Under Armour All-American Game first ever fan vote. The fans will decide the final two roster spots in the Under Armour All-American Game held on Jan. 2 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl televised live on ESPN2. Round 1 voting is underway and you can cast your votes here.

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

With the upcoming IHSA football playoff pairings announcement on Saturday night, here are some teams with modest win-loss records who opponents probably wouldn’t want to see in the early rounds of the postseason.

Loyola Academy (5-3): The Ramblers have struggled this season. But head coach John Holocek has, once again, led his team to the state playoff field. So what gives? Loyola has been inconsistent on offense and has turned the football over way too often. The team has also been dealing with various injuries. But the defense (minus a 35-3 loss to Brother Rice) has generally played well this season. If the Ramblers can clean up the turnovers and find a way to get their offense back in a rhythm, this team can undoubtedly surprise some teams along the way in Class 8A. 

Neuqua Valley (5-3): The Wildcats and head coach Bill Ellinghaus have dropped three tight games this season including a last possession, 21-14 decision to DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central two weeks ago. If the Wildcats can continue to get steady production from a balanced offense, led by RB Will Cheviliar and QB John Gronowski, the defense is capable of keeping Neuqua Valley in every game this postseason.

Aurora Christian (5-3): Coach Dave Beebe’s Eagles have lost to three playoff-bound teams this season with a combined 21-3 record (IC Prep, St. Francis and Bishop McNamara). They have a potent spread-passing attack led by sophomore QB Ethan Hampton. Aurora Christian is also slated to wind up in the Class 1A bracket on pairings night. Their dynamic offense and passing game in general could be a tough matchup for opponents in, what usually is, Class 1A North bracket with teams that generally run the ball.

Barrington (5-3): The Broncos, under head coach Joe Sanchez, have also been dealing with a rash of mid-season injuries; that said, it looks like Barrington is getting healthy at the right time. Junior QB Tommy Fitzpatrick is back from injury and is a key catalyst for any Barrington postseason run. Fitzpatrick has weapons in junior WR EJ Darlington and senior RB Michael Curran. 

Lake Zurich (5-3): The Bears made a starting quarterback change last week as Jack Moses took the reins. He promptly led the Bears to a 42-0 win over Mundelein. If the Bears can limit turnovers and continue to get strong production from their offense, the L-Z defense is more than capable of making life very difficult for any higher seeds that they could draw in the 7A state playoff field. 

Edwardsville (5-3): The Tigers hit a rough patch starting the season with a 1-3 record. But they currently boast a four-game winnings streak heading into Friday night’s tilt at Collinsville. Edwardsville is led by senior QB Kendall Abdur Rahman (Notre Dame) and is a gamebreaker every time he touches the football. Sophomore RB Justin Johnson (and the team in general) possesses a ton of speed. There are athletes and playmakers on both sides of the football. 

Here are some more lower seeds who could wreak havoc:

Providence Catholic (5-3): If the Celtics can get their running game going, beware. 

Raby (5-3): The Raiders could be a handful in 4A.

St. Charles East (4-4): The Saints’ power-option game is always tough to defend. 

Joliet Catholic (4-4): IF the Hilltoppers can beat Notre Dame on Friday, they could be a very tough out in 5A.

Crystal Lake South (5-3): A huge offensive line leads the way for the Gators. 

Zion-Benton (4-4): The Zee-Bees can put as much talent on the field than most of their opponents. 

Lemont (4-4): Needs a win Friday over rival Oak Forest. If the offense can keep the chains moving, the Indians’ defense can do the rest. 

Crete-Monee (5-3): They are the Southland conference champs. Their first two losses in 2018? Lincoln-Way East (8-0) and Brother Rice (8-0).

Thornton (4-4): The Wildcats will need to upset Lincoln Way Central Friday. Thornton always has talent.

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

Bloomington, IL/Chicago, IL (October 17, 2018) -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football Playoff Pairing Show returns to NBC Sports Chicago for its eighth season in 2018. NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – will air the show live on NBC Sports Chicago+ on Saturday, October 20 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CT. Viewers are urged to visit NBC Sports Chicago’s “Channel Finder” page ( for exact NBC Sports Chicago+ channel locations in their area.

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which will reveal the brackets and first round match-ups of all 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes, can also be viewed via Live stream beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday at, on Facebook Live (, and will also be accessible for viewing to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers via the brand new MyTeams by NBC Sports app (NOTE: MyTeams is available on iOS and Android devices, at no cost, to fans anywhere in the U.S. and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).

"The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show' continues to be one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state of Illinois and we couldn't be prouder to once again showcase two-straight hours of live, interactive coverage across all platforms on Saturday night," said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago.  

NBC Sports Chicago anchor Leila Rahimi hosts the show and will be joined by a panel of experts on-set, including long-time IHSA TV announcer Dave Bernhard and Illinois high school football bracketologist Steve Soucie. IHSA TV veteran Camron Smith will breakdown each class with media members from around the state, including NBC Sports Chicago prep football expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the show and ask questions to be answered during the program by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #IHSAbrackets

The program will once again feature highlights, coaches interviews and media analysis from all over the state. In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will be gathering teams & fan reaction moments throughout the “Land of Lincoln” on Saturday from numerous school playoff pairing parties taking place that evening.

“This is one of the most anticipated nights of the year on the IHSA calendar,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Student-athletes, coaches and communities around the state have put their hearts into the last nine weeks, and for 256 teams, it’s an amazing chance to celebrate their accomplishments, while looking ahead to the path to the IHSA Football State Finals. We appreciate the time and effort that our partners at NBC Sports Chicago put into making this night so special.”

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show kicks off NBC Sports Chicago’s playoff coverage of IHSA Football, which culminates with all eight state title games being televised and streamed by NBC Sports Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23-24), live from Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.