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Illinois Football Recruiting: Examining the top in-state prospects from the class-of-2017

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The next recruiting class features two five-star recruits from Illinois.

The 2016 recruiting season has concluded for Fighting Illini football, but the coaching staff has already refocused their efforts on the next crop of top high school talent. As we've recently documented, Illinois has had tremendous in-state recruiting struggles over the past decade. Though the 'Land of Lincoln' isn't exactly a football hotbed by any means, the program simply must do a better job of locking down their backyard in order to have any hope for future success.

With that, here's a quick look at the current top ten Illinois natives from the class-of-2017. Keep in mind that recruiting rankings will change a ton over the next 365 days, so this list may look entirely different come National Signing Day.

Note: Illinois has offered scholarships to each player unless noted otherwise.

A.J. Epenesa

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 13 (Five-Star)
Position: SDE
Hometown: Edwardsville, IL (Edwardsville)
Notable Offers: Iowa, Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame
Commitment Status: Iowa (1/17/2016)
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Iowa

Yes, the top recruit from Illinois has already given a verbal commitment to the Iowa Hawkeyes. A.J. Epenesa, who's one of two five-star prospects from the state, is one of the top defensive players and he should be terrorizing Big Ten offensive lines for years to come. It's very unlikely that the six-foot-five, 230lb. defensive lineman would even consider flipping because his father played for Iowa back in the 1990's.

Jeff Thomas

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 27 (Five-Star)
Position: WR
Hometown: East St. Louis (East St. Louis)
Notable Offers: Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri, Michigan State, Florida State
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Michigan

Jeff Thomas is, obviously, the top undecided prospect from the state of Illinois. The speedy five-foot-ten, 170 lb. wide receiver is a good route-runner that can use his elusiveness to explode for big gains after the catch. Thomas could line up in multiple slots, so he could be utilized all over the field in the passing game. Mike Bellemy is Illinois' lead recruiter for East St. Louis product.

Cole Kmet

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 194 (Four-Star)
Position: TE
Hometown: Arlington Heights (St. Viator)
Notable Offers: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Baylor
Commitment Status: Notre Dame (10/2/2015)
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Notre Dame

Kmet is another top Illinois native that ended his recruitment early in the process. The six-foot-six, 230 lb. tight end is rated as a four-star recruit by 247Sports, and has been committed to the Fighting Irish since early October.

Ricky Smalling

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 288 (Four-Star)
Position: WR
Hometown: Oak Lawn (Brother Rice)
Notable Offers: Wisconsin, Iowa State, Virginia, Miami (OH)
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: N/A

Finally -- a prospect who Illinois could realistically land! Rated as a four-star recruit by 247Sports, Smalling (pictured above) visited Champaign on October 24th for Illinois' game against Wisconsin. The Badgers will be tough to beat out for the Oak Lawn product, but the Fighting Illini should be able to offer a huge amount of early playing time.

Isaiah Robertson

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 289 (Four-Star)
Position: WR
Hometown: Naperville (Neuqua Valley)
Notable Offers: Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Maryland
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Notre Dame

At six-foot-three, 190 lbs., Isaiah Robertson could be a huge asset on the outside for a team that likes to get the ball downfield. The only problem for Illinois is that the program's style of play under Bill Cubit doesn't exactly entail throwing passes further than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Kevin Jarvis

Overall Prospect Rating: No. 303 (Four-Star)
Position: OT
Hometown: Park Ridge (Maine South)
Notable Offers: Tennessee, Arkansas, Syracuse, Rutgers
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Illinois

Ivory Kelly-Martin

Overall Prospect Rating: NR (Three-Star)
Position: RB
Hometown: La Grange Park (Nazareth Academy)
Notable Offers: Wisconsin, Western Michigan, Miami (OH)
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Wisconsin

Jake Marwede

Overall Prospect Rating: NR (Three-Star)
Position: TE
Hometown: Wilmette (Loyola Academy)
Notable Offers: Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State, Duke, Tennessee
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: N/A

Terez LaGrone

Overall Prospect Rating: NR (Three-Star)
Position: DE
Hometown: East St. Louis (East St. Louis)
Notable Offers: Illinois
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: N/A

Verderian Lowe

Overall Prospect Rating: NR (Three-Star)
Position: OT
Hometown: Rockford (Auburn)
Notable Offers: Illinois
Commitment Status: Undecided
247Sports Crystal Ball Favorite: Illinois