EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Edwardsville is arguably the top football team in the state of Illinois this fall.
James has taken an official visit to Indiana and aims to get to Kansas in early December.
Sitting at 7-0, including victories over East St. Louis and O’Fallon, the Tigers have their fair share of players that are drawing looks, or will definitely be recruited by programs on the next level.
247Sports takes you inside the program.
Four On Top For James
Indiana has set the bar for cornerback/athlete Craig James, who says he’s also high on Kansas, Minnesota and Syracuse.
The Hoosiers were able to get a jump on the competition for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound James, getting him to campus for an official visit the weekend of Sept. 20.
“As they told me, they’re still trying to build a program, which I see it,” James said. “I see in the next two years they’ll be one of the dominant teams, hopefully people will respect them more. I liked everything on the visit. It was nice. The campus, the atmosphere, the game, I liked the people, it was like a big family.”
James has been a big-time player for Edwardsville this fall.
“He works hard in the weight room,” head coach Matt Martin said. “He’s a track kid. He has all the track numbers you’re looking for in a football player.
“Craig is a hard worker, he’s a leader, he’s a smart football player. I think he can be a tremendous cover corner at the next level. Not only can he cover, he can tackle and he has tremendous ball skills. A great player.”
James plans on using all of his official visits before making a college decision late in the recruiting process. He’s aiming to get to Kansas the first week of December.
“I really haven’t got to see them on TV, but other than that talking to Coach (Reggie) Mitchell he’s a cool guy,” James said. “I feel like I’d be able to get along with him. I think as a football team they’re a program moving up and they need DBs and that’s what he told me. I’d need to come in ready to play.”
James added that he’s still learning about Minnesota and Syracuse.
“Minnesota is the same situation as Kansas, they need DBs and I’d be able to play early,” James said. “I’ve seen them a little more than Kansas on TV. I’ve heard good things about them like the campus is nice and everything.”
“Syracuse, I talked to them a couple weeks ago trying to schedule a visit. I don’t know that much so I’m trying to get everything on my visit when I go.”
The Next Big Fish
The St. Louis area has produced its fair share of blue-chippers, and Martin and his coaching staff believe they have one of the next ones in freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa.
It’s not easy to impress Martin, however through hard work and toughness, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Epenesa quickly earned his coach’s respect.
“I’m always skeptical,” Martin stated. “I’m skeptical with anyone that hasn’t proven themselves, especially a freshman, a 14-year old at that. I thought for sure we’d play him at the sophomore level. He had no business playing at the freshman level if you just look at him. I thought for sure he wouldn’t have the work ethic or maturity to play at the varsity level. He proved me wrong all summer long.
“Gave him a chance to play, played four games for us at the varsity level for us, started d-line for us against good competition. I think the physical skills are obvious. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. It’s the work ethic, the coachability, his football IQ, those things I’ve been really impressed with.”
The son of former Iowa football player Epenesa Epenesa, A.J. grew up rooting for the Hawkeyes and would love the opportunity to possibly play at his father’s alma mater.
“That would be cool,” the younger Epenesa said. “I like the Big Ten. I basically follow Iowa.”
It won’t be long before many of college football’s best programs are following Epenesa.
News & Notes
-Junior linebacker Zac Rujawitz (6-0, 225) made a name for himself last fall, earning St. Louis Metro-Area Sophomore MVP Honors. He’s on the radar of several programs including Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and Cincinnati. He visited the Boilermakers campus last weekend and plans to check out Cincinnati in December. He’d also like to get to Missouri in the near future.
“(Zac) is a tremendous weight room kid,” Martin said. “He’s built himself into a solid frame. He is one of the most physical players we’ve had come through here. He will hit you. He’s that guy you don’t want to go against.”
-Junior quarterback Dan Marinko (6-2, 175) is having a big season, having thrown for 1,878 yards and 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He’s added another seven scores rushing.
“His completion rate is around 70 percent,” Martin said. “It’s ridiculous. He’s had four 300-yard plus games. The thing I say about Danny is I don’t know if he’s exceptional, but what makes him exceptional is he’s so darn good in all phases of being a quarterback, whether it’s accuracy, whether it’s decision making on the read option, whether it’s decision making in the pass game, whether it’s toughness and being able to take a hit, he just does everything well. He’s a leader. The kids respond to him. He can play at the next level.”
Junior receiver Isaiah Michl (6-1, 180) has been one of Marinko’s favorite targets, catching 26 passes for 517 yards and six scores.
“Isaiah has really come a long way and been a real bright spot for us at wide receiver,” Martin said. “He has all the measurable. You watch him run the 300-hurdles or 400 and you can see how tough he is. He’s just a tremendous competitor.”
“(Mueller) is a physical kid, has a good frame, has a frame the Division-I people like," Martin said. "He’s 6-4, a 225-pound kid and he’s only going to grow. He’s an inside linebacker for us and a tight end. He can run, he can catch.
“(Kaltmayer) is a basketball player. Needs to get stronger. He knows that. Just needs to work in the weight room. He’s a big-framed kid. He’s kind of a late bloomer, and with Division-I recruiting beginning so much earlier, they sometimes miss out on guys like this. He’s 6-7 and just gotten better every week for us.”
Another playmaker on both sides of the ball has been senior D’Anthony Knight (6-0, 180).
“A versatile player at safety and playing some running back for us,” Martin said. “He’s a physical kid at safety. He plays the ball well too, so he can get interceptions.”