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Which names from Illinois high schools to watch out for during NFL Draft

USA Today

Which names from Illinois high schools to watch out for during NFL Draft

The Land of Lincoln features several names to watch for in the upcoming NFL Draft, which begins next Thursday. Here is a list of NFL hopefuls who hail from Illinois:

DE A.J. Epenesa, Edwardsville/Iowa

Epenesa, a rare five-star ranked recruit from the Metro East area, was also ranked as the 30th best player in the nation in the Class of 2017. Epenesa, the son of former Iowa defensive linemen Eppy Epenesa, was verbally committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes over a year before making his official visit in Iowa City. Epenesa chose Iowa over drawing scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC, along with nearly the entire Big Ten conference. 

TE Cole Kmet, St. Viator/Notre Dame

Kmet, a four-star ranked tight end according to, gave Notre Dame his verbal commitment on October 2, 2015 as part of the Fighting Irish Class of 2017. Kmet, who was also a standout baseball player who played both football and baseball in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, narrowed down his list of favorites to Notre Dame and Ohio State. Kmet drew scholarship offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina, among others. Kmet, who's father Frank played in the NFL for six seasons, played in the 2017 US Army All American Game. 

TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Sacred Heart-Griffin/Missouri

Known simply as “Albert O” in his days at Sacred Heart-Griffin playing for Hall of Fame head coach Ken Leonard, Okwuegbunam was a three star ranked tight end according to He committed to Missouri on Sept. 20, 2015 after taking part in a game day visit to Columbia. Okwuegbunam, who also considered offers from Syracuse, Nebraska, West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan State drew considerable pressure from multiple schools to reconsider his choice after giving the Tigers his verbal commitment. However, he made his only official visit to Missouri in January. Owkuegbunam also was part of the Cyclones’ back to back Class 5A state title championship teams in 2013 and 2014.

DL Raequan Williams, DePaul Prep/Michigan State

Williams, who began his high school career as a Gordon Tech Ram and finished his high school career as a DePaul Prep Ram, (the school changed names in the summer of 2014) was a four-star ranked defensive linemen according to in the Class of 2015. Williams committed to Michigan State on December 20, 2014 in front a a packed gym before his basketball game that night. Williams, who was a two-way four year varsity starter at DePaul Prep, also considered Iowa and made official visits to both Iowa and Michigan State before making his final college choice. Williams drew scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee.

RB James Robinson, Rockford Lutheran/Illinois State

Robinson, who was a two-star ranked running back according to during the Class of 2016, committed to Illinois State on Feb. 25 of that year. Robinson, who still holds IHSA two rushing records for most career rushing yards (9,045 yards) and career rushing touchdowns (158) was offered by Illinois State and head coach Brock Spack after an impressive summer camp performance had just one additional scholarship offer from Eastern Illinois along with steady recruiting interest from Iowa. 

WR Jeff Thomas, East St. Louis/Miami

Thomas, who was a four-star ranked wide receiver recruit according to in the Class of 2017, was simply one of the state's fastest and most electric play makers during his high school career at East St. Louis. Thomas, who drew nationwide recruiting attention since his freshman year at East St. Louis had narrowed down his final list of favorite schools to Illinois, Miami, Oregon and Tennessee decided to commit to the Miami Hurricanes on national Letter of Intent day Feb. 1, 2017 after making an official visit to Miami on Jan. 21. 

DL Mike Panasiuk, Lake Park/Michigan State

Panasiuk, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to in the Class of 2017 committed to Michigan State on June 8th, 2015 just days after making an on campus unofficial visit and adding his Spartans offer. Panasiuk also considered Wisconsin, Penn State, Missouri and Minnesota along with Michigan State as his top schools list. Panasiuk was a four year varsity starter at Lake Park for head coach Chris Roll and was named as an All State player in 2014 and 2015 by EDGYTIM/ 

DT Amir Watts, Chicago Phillips/Pitt

Watts, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to in the Class of 2016, committed to Pitt on January 25th, 2016 just a few days after making an official visit to Pitt. Watts, who held 25 FBS level scholarship offers also took official visits to Minnesota and Indiana. Watts who was named as an All State player in the 2015 season by multiple media outlets, was also a key on the Philips Wildcats 2015 Class 4A state title team. Chicago Phillips in 2014 was the first ever Chicago Public League football program to win an IHSA state title. 


Others NFL Draft hopefuls to watch:

QB Broc Ruter, Neuqua Valley/ North Central College

OL Luke Juriga, Marmion Academy/ WMU

LB Jordan Glasgow, Marmion Academy/ Michigan

RB Jonathon Ward, Bishop McNamara/ Central Michigan

WR Matt Cole, Chicago Curie/ McKendree

K Tucker McCann, O’Fallon/ Missouri

OL Tre’Vour Wallace Simms, East St. Louis/ Missouri

Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 14 Lake Park

NBC Sports Chicago

Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 14 Lake Park

School: Lake Park

2018-19 record: 23-11 (8-6 DuKane)

Postseason results: Lost to Downers North in Class 4A sectional semifinals.

Players to watch: Luke Sgarbossa is a senior guard coming off of a strong junior year that saw him put up 15.5 points and 2.1 assists per game. Sgarbossa is a big-time scorer. Junior Trevor Montiel emerged as a player to watch this summer with some solid play as he can knock down jumpers. 

Why they're in the power rankings: The Lancers made a huge impression in the postseason with regional wins over DeKalb and Benet before losing a tight game in the next round. Lake Park also looked strong during June. With many pieces returning, the Lancers look like the DuKane favorites and a force to contend with in Class 4A.   

Did you know? Lake Park has captured 14 regional titles in program history but the Lancers only have one sectional title (2015) in program history. 

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage


Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area football fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSPreps) crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night's “High School Lites” broadcast at 11 p.m. — just after Chicago Bulls basketball. The show also live streams at High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. the following Saturday. This week, it's all about the big boys. 8A and 7A teams are in position to boost their playoff resume. Which game should we give some love to on Friday night?

Curie vs. Simeon, 7:15 p.m. (Gately Stadium)

Maine South at New Trier, 7:30 p.m.

Lake Park at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.

Poll opens Tuesday at 12 p.m. and closes Thursday at 4 p.m. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

— Follow @NBCSPreps on Twitter.
— Note the “pinned Tweet” atop the @NBCSPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.
— Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @NBCSPreps just after 4 p.m. Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the week,” along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights this season.