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Friday, September 15, 2006
Updated: September 20, 3:23 PM ET
Coast-to-Coast: Ill./Ind./W.V./Ky.

By Craig Haubert
Scouts Inc.

Each one of these areas has produced an NFL star that even the most casual NFL fan would recognize. Donovan McNabb is from Illinois, Shaun Alexander hails from Kentucky, Randy Moss is from West Virginia and Rex Grossman calls Indiana home. Droves of talent may not pour out of these states, and during basketball season football may take a back set, but don't mistake the ability of these areas to produce talent and, at times, superstars of the game.

Top Prospects -- Ill./Ind./W.V./Ky.
NAME POS GRADE
Martez Wilson (IL) DE 86
Jerimy Finch (IN) S 81
Bryan Bulaga (IL) OT 80
Robert Hughes (RB) RB 79
Darren Evans (IN) RB 79
Josh Brent (IL) DT 78
Doug Beaumont (KY) RB 78
Artis Chambers (IN) S 78
Charlie Russell (WV) QB 78
David Molk (IL) OC 78

The '07 class is above-average for the area with the nation's No. 1-ranked defensive end and both a top-ten safety and offensive tackle. Programs like Iowa, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Auburn have already secured talented from these states.

Top recruit

Martez Wilson, Defensive end
Simeon (Chicago)
Considering: Miami, Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Illinois

Chicago has produced many talented football players and Wilson, the nation's No. 1 defensive end, is not the first talented end to come from here. Players like Simeon Rice and Renaldo Wynn have also come out of Chicago. At first glance, Wilson will not blow you away with his physical stature. Some will even think he is a wide receiver prospect with his build. So while he may not look the part of an elite end, the perception changes when you watch him play.

Wilson has the frame to get bigger, and while he may not be ideal size, he is tough. On offense, he run routes and catches the ball well, but on defense he can take on blockers and shed. He gets the most out of his strength and knows how to generate power to knock a blocker back. His physical nature eases your concerns about his size, but it is his athletic ability that draws you in. He is quick, can get around blocks and can change directions. He has good speed, a motor and can play all over the field.

His ability to run and chase down ball carriers down field is amazing. His natural physical attributes make a threat as a pass rusher, and as he grows and develops pass rush moves, he will become even more dangerous. Wilson has the room to get better, but he can do so much that it will be hard for his college coaches to not overuse him.

With his talent it is easy to understand the great amount of interest in him from recruiters. He holds multiple offers from programs all over the country and has narrowed down that list to a top five and will soon hit the road to officially visit those schools.

He has rescheduled a visit to Illinois, the in-state school which fellow Chicago native Simeon Rice attended. Illinois has stayed in the running with some of college football's powerhouse programs. Some have felt the Illini have an edge, but Wilson will tell you not to buy into that. While he is there often, it has more to do with the school's proximity.

Wilson will visit USC in late November, then Notre Dame, Ohio State and Miami. The Hurricanes could be the team to watch in the run for Wilson. They came with an offer in mid August and quickly jumped right into the mix. The recruitment of this Windy City native will be one of the hottest stories this fall.

Player under the radar

Brent Slusher, Tight end
Bell County (Pineville, Ky.)
Verbal: Auburn

Kentucky was home to Micah Johnson, the nation's No. 1-ranked inside linebacker, last year, but this year the state does not boast a player with such a high ranking. That being said, Brent Slusher is a legitimate tight end and linebacker prospect who worked hard in the off-season by attending camps and combines to try and generate interest.

His hard work paid off -- coaches saw a prospect with good size, ability and aggressiveness. He comes from a smaller program and will need to keep improving, but he has the tools to develop into a good one. He is already a solid in-line blocker and, with work, could be a strong player in this area. He can be a target in the receiving game as he has good hands and concentration.

He is still developing as a tight end and his senior year will only be his second lining up at the position. Once he gets to Auburn and gets continuous coaching, he has the room to get much better. Slusher is not the best tight end prospect in the land, but with experience, time, reps, and more coaching, he could turn out to be a real asset for the Tigers offense and have people saying "where did that kid come from?"

On the trail

With eleven Division-I programs within these four states, you could imagine they will be among the most interested in the talent within their own borders and these others close by. Much of the early action is taking place in Illinois, where Iowa has had some success by landing two prospects that rank among the top 15 at their respective position.

In West Virginia, the Mountaineers have done the best with three verbals, including one from top-25 quarterback Charlie Russell, a Morgantown native.

The true winner in recruiting these areas right now is not even located in any of these four states. Michigan has landed three highly-rated prospects, with one coming from Illinois and two from Indiana, including ESPN 150 safety Jerimy Finch out of Warren Central High in Indianapolis.

Game of the Week

Man, W.V. (2-1) at Matewan, W.V. (3-0), Friday 7:30 p.m. ET
It's the alumni game for Matewan, and they'll be wowed by senior running back Paul McCoy, who has rushed for 1,072 yards and 16 touchdowns in just three games. He rushed for 537 yards in the opener this season. --Henry Gola

Craig Haubert is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN's Scouts Inc.