College football season kicks off in earnest this weekend, and Division I rosters throughout the country are dotted with players from the metro-east who will be making their debuts.
Edwardsville graduate A.J. Epenesa is second on the Iowa Hawkeyes’ depth chart at right defensive end and is expected to see playing time as a freshman.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Epenesa, one of the most highly recruited players in recent memory, had 45 tackles and three sacks for the Tigers last season. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio and was the Defensive MVP at the inaugural Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii.
Iowa will open its season against Wyoming at 11 a.m. Saturday. Althoff graduate C.J. Coldon is a cornerback at Wyoming, but the Cowboys will redshirt Coldon unless there are injuries to their four veteran corners.
The 6-1, 175-pound Coldon recorded 49 tackles, one sack and one interception last season as the Crusaders finished 11-1 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs. He also was one of Althoff’s leading receivers.
Belleville West graduate Brian Hill, a fifth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in April, was a star running back at Wyoming for the past three years.
Jeff Thomas, Miami
Thomas, an East St. Louis graduate, is a freshman receiver who is listed second on the Hurricanes’ depth chart. He likely will see playing time in their home game against Bethune Cookman at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
The 5-10, 175-pound Thomas, the MVP of the Under Armour All-American Game last year, had 58 catches for 1,198 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Flyers as he was named the News-Democrat’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Thomas had offers from dozens of Division I programs but selected Miami over Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, Oregon, Tennessee and Michigan.
Reyondous Estes, Minnesota
Estes, a quarterback and another graduate of East St. Louis, originally committed to Missouri but changed his mind and announced he would sign with the Golden Gophers.
The 6-0, 163-pound Estes, is listed behind Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft on the Minnesota depth chart. The Golden Gophers defeated Buffalo 17-7 on Thursday night.
Estes threw for 2,464 yards and 26 touchdowns this past year at East Side. He also rushed for 533 yards and eight touchdowns.
James Knight, Illinois
Knight, an East St. Louis graduate, is listed fourth on the Illini depth chart at cornerback.
Knight, who is 5-10 and 205 pounds, played linebacker for the Flyers and collected a team-high 144 tackles last year. He also had five sacks.
Illinois will play host to Ball State at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Riley Patterson, Memphis
Patterson, a freshman from Edwardsville, is listed first on the Tigers’ depth chart at placekicker. Memphis defeated visiting Louisiana-Monroe 37-29 on Thursday as Patterson was 4-for-4 on extra points.
Patterson booted three field goals and averaged more than 50 yards per kickoff as a senior for Edwardsville last season.
Patterson, 5-11 and 180 pounds, attended a camp at Memphis last year and was offered a scholarship on site.
Jaylon Bester, Miami (Ohio)
Bester, the News-Democrat’s Small-School Player of the Year last season at Althoff, when he rushed for 2,184 yards and 32 touchdowns, is a wideout for the Redhawks, who open the season at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Marshall.
The 5-8, 165-pound Bester had 13 catches for 115 yards and one touchdown last year.
The Redhawks return three of their four leading receivers from last year: Gus Ragland, Jared Murphy and Ryan Smith.
Bryson Strong, SIU Carbondale
Strong is a 5-10, 234-pound graduate of Althoff who will extend the Belleville connection at linebacker for the Salukis. Chase Allen, a Belleville East graduate, played the last four years at SIUC and is in training camp with the Miami Dolphins.
Strong is a two-time all-state selection who finished his stellar Althoff career with 460 tackles and 23 sacks. He is certain to see playing time for the Salukis, who considered him the top recruit in their February class.
SIUC opens its season at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 against Mississippi Valley State.
Tate Rujawitz, SIU Carbondale
Rujawitz is a massive 6-2, 288-pounder who will see time on the defensive line.
Rujawitz had 32 tackles and two sacks last year for Edwardsville, which finished 10-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 8A playoffs.
Lucas Davis, SIU Carbondale
Another Edwardsville product, the 6-4, 285-pound Davis hopes to nail down some playing time on the offensive line.
Edwyn Brown, Eastern Illinois
The 6-5, 185-pound Brown from Althoff will focus on defensive back for the Panthers. Brown had 14 interceptions for the Crusaders in the past two years.
Brown originally committed to Southeast Missouri State.
Eastern Illinois opened its season Thursday night with a 22-20 victory at Indiana State.
Other local high school graduates
Other metro-east players continuing their college careers are:
▪ Austin Seibert (Belleville West), placekicker, Oklahoma
▪ Sherand Boyd (Belleville West), safety, Northern Colorado
▪ Terry Beckner Jr. (East St. Louis), defensive lineman, Missouri
▪ Austin Barnes (O’Fallon), punter, East Carolina
▪ Darian Pollion (Belleville West), wide receiver, Morgan State
▪ Royce Newman (Nashville), Nashville, offensive tackle, Mississippi
▪ Tre’vour Simms (East St. Louis), offensive lineman, Missouri
▪ Erik Furmanek (Althoff), tight end, Missouri State
▪ Tucker McCann (O’Fallon), placekicker, Missouri
▪ Stanley Green (East St. Louis), strong safety, Illinois
▪ Nate Strong (East St. Louis) running back, Missouri
▪ Merrick Jackson (Althoff), defensive tackle, Minnesota
▪ Kenny Knight Jr. (East St. Louis), defensive tackle, Ball State
▪ Tanner Farmer (Highland), offensive lineman, Nebraska
▪ Nick Kaltmayer (Edwardsville), offensive tackle, Kansas State
▪ Tony Adams (St. Louis University High, Belleville native), cornerback, Illinois
▪ Kentrail Moran (O’Fallon), running back, New Mexico
▪ Oddie Granger III (East St. Louis), defensive lineman, Eastern Michigan
▪ Keenan Young (Althoff), wide receiver, Jackson State
▪ Dewayne Hendrix (O’Fallon), defensive end, Pittsburgh
▪ Grant Snow (Columbia), offensive lineman, Drake
▪ Zac Rujawitz (Edwardsville), linebacker, Drake
▪ Charlie Harmon (O’Fallon), offensive tackle, South Dakota State
▪ Desmond Chapple (Edwardsville), defensive lineman, Northern Iowa
▪ Matt Sotiropoulos (Belleville East), placekicker, SIU Carbondale
▪ Eddie Lusk (Triad), running back, Eastern Illinois
▪ Chris Zobrist (Triad), offensive lineman, Western Illinois
▪ Nick Wolf (Nashville), defensive end, SIU Carbondale
▪ Dom Davis (Belleville West), cornerback, North Dakota State
▪ Jeffery Jones (O’Fallon), tight end, Eastern Illinois
▪ Jaleel Ashford (St. Louis University High, Fairview Heights native), defensive back, Kentucky State
▪ Dan Ryan (O’Fallon), offensive lineman, Northern Colorado
▪ Markese Jackson (East St. Louis), linebacker, SIU Carbondale
▪ Craig James (Edwardsville), cornerback, SIU Carbondale
▪ Austin Firestone (Belleville West), placekicker, Missouri State
▪ Kyron Watson (East St. Louis), linebacker, SIU Carbondale
▪ Tori Millender (Belleville West), linebacker, SIU Carbondale
▪ William Keltee (East St. Louis), linebacker, Kentucky State
Did we miss someone? If so, email David Wilhelm at email@example.com. Please, Division I players only.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm