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Midwest Spotlight: Five underclassmen under the microscope this fall

Bryce Underwood
Bryce Underwood (Nick Lucero/

With the 2024 recruiting cycle more than halfway over, a lot of attention will be paid to 2025 and 2026 standouts this fall as programs begin to shift their focus to the underclassmen.

Rivals national recruiting analyst Clint Cosgrove examines five underclassmen in the Midwest that will be under the microscope this season.

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Underwood has been nothing short of spectacular while leading his Belleville (Mich.) team to consecutive state championships during his freshman and sophomore seasons. The five-star is currently ranked as the No. 1 quarterback and No. 3 player overall in the 2025 class, but an argument could be made that he is the top recruit in the country and this season's performance could go a long way toward claiming the top overall spot.

Underwood's recruitment remains open, with Michigan, Michigan State, LSU, Penn State, Ohio State, Alabama and others remaining in the mix.


The Iowa legacy and younger brother of former five-star and current Buffalo Bill AJ Epenesa has shown flashes of greatness during his young football career and his lofty ranking of No. 12 overall in the 2025 class reflects that. Epenesa's combination of size, speed and overall athleticism cannot help but get you excited when you turn on the film. Next up is a junior season that will go a long way toward determining if he will become one of the first in his class to earn that coveted fifth star.

The Edwardsville (Ill.) standout would likely be a take for any school in the country, but look for him to potentially follow in the footsteps of his dad and two older brothers by playing for the Hawkeyes in college.


A phenomenal sophomore season led to a handful of early Power Five offers, but it's Taylor's development and performance since season's end that has led to an epic rise in his recruitment. The son of two professional athletes has a great frame, can stretch the field and has exceptional ball skills and body control. The Geneva (Ill.) standout is only scratching the surface of the player he will eventually be, and if this off-season is any indication of what to expect from him this season he could end up being one of the most sought-after players - regardless of position - in the nation.

Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, USC and Notre Dame are among the many schools that have already extended scholarship offers.


The towering offensive tackle from Wisconsin has been on our radar since his freshman year, when he showed plenty of promise at the Rivals Camp Series in Indianapolis. His performance in Indianapolis was good enough to earn an invite to the Five-Star Underclassmen Challenge, where he had gone from a player with promise to a bona fide prospect in just a matter of months. Strebig has only gotten better since and his sophomore season was impressive enough to rise all of the way up to the No. 77 spot in the 2025 rankings. A productive off-season has seen his offer list explode and a strong junior season could vault Strebig into the five-star conversation.

Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Florida and Miami are just a few of the schools that are in the mix for the Waukesha (Wisc.) Catholic Memorial standout.


Measuring in at 6-foot-8 with former Olympians as parents, there are few players regardless of class who have the combination of size, athleticism, intelligence and genetic profile of 2026 offensive tackle Jackson Cantwell. The young offensive lineman followed his phenomenal freshman season on the gridiron with a state title in the shotput and at this rate could be a world-class caliber recruit in both sports. A strong sophomore showing could land him in the debate for the No. 1 player in 2026.

Cantwell already has offers from many of college football's blueblood programs, with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia standing out early in his recruitment.