(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
Here are the top 15 Kansas City-area high school football recruits for the Class of 2017, according to ESPN.com senior writer Jeremy Crabtree.
1. Chester Graves, Park Hill
DE (6-4, 220 pounds)
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Considering: Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin and others.
With nearly 20 scholarship offers before the start of his senior season, Graves is the headliner for the senior class in Kansas City. He emerged onto the scene as a freshman, quickly generated offers from local programs and after a dominating junior season, the national programs came after him. Earlier this summer, Graves listed Ohio State as his favorite, but the Buckeyes class is close to filling up. Others colleges such as Missouri and Nebraska also remain in hot pursuit.
2. Anthony Payne, Raymore-Peculiar
DE (6-2, 250 pounds)
Committed to Kansas State
Payne is the perfect example of what can happen if you perform well at summer camps. Payne’s name was already well known to recruiters, as he had more than a dozen Group of 5 and FCS offers, but strong showings at a Michigan satellite camp and a K-State camp earned him offers from the Wolverines and Wildcats. Payne, who said he grew up a K-State fan, committed to the Wildcats in late July.
3. DaRon Davis, Lee’s Summit North
ATH (6-1, 190 pounds)
Committed to Missouri
Davis is the most explosive offensive playmaker returning in the metro area. A do-it-all type of athlete, Davis could project at running back, receiver, defensive back or even as a special-teams star on the next level. That’s why Davis was an important commitment for Mizzou. Nebraska and others have not let up in their efforts to get him to make an official visit during the season.
4. Angel Dominguez, St. Thomas Aquinas
DT (6-5, 271 pounds)
Committed to Iowa State
Recruiters absolutely love Dominguez’s upside as either a big defensive end or eventually as a defensive tackle, and he has size few other prospects in the city can match. Dominguez has a chance to shoot up the rankings as a senior with more consistent play on every down, but Iowa State saw enough out of him early on to offer a scholarship and get the commitment.
5. Jafar Armstrong, Bishop Miege
ATH (6-1, 185 pounds)
Committed to Missouri
Armstrong rivals Davis as one of the city’s top returning offensive weapons. As a receiver, Armstrong was a key figure in Miege’s run to a state championship in 2015 and recruiters love how he could also contribute as a special-teams star. He picked up offers from Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Wyoming before picking the Tigers in June.
6. Djimon Colbert, Bishop Miege
CB (6-1, 186 pounds)
Committed to Iowa
Colbert starred as a junior at Winnetonka before moving to Bishop Miege, where he is expected to be one of the Stags’ top defensive stoppers. Colbert has the size and speed recruiters crave, but he came off the board early by committing to Iowa; other offers from Iowa State, Kansas and Nebraska in March.
7. Sammy Wheeler, St. James Academy
QB (6-4, 200 pounds)
Committed to Kansas State
With little varsity experience at quarterback, Wheeler floored Wildcat coaches this summer at camp with his arm strength, accuracy and athletic ability and earned an offer he quickly accepted. Wheeler could still project at other positions, but with a solid senior season could develop into one of the biggest steals in the city.
8. Dillon Thomas, Park Hill South
CB (6-2, 175 pounds)
Committed to Northern Illinois
Overshadowed some by Davis and Colbert, Northland coaches think Thomas has all the tools to be a very good college football player. A taller defensive back, Thomas was all over the field as a junior, helping him pick up offers from Army, Navy, New Mexico, Northern Iowa and Wyoming before he committed to Northern Illinois. Thomas could emerge as a player who adds a Power Five offer later this season.
9. Jay Dineen, Lawrence Free State
LB (6-2, 225 pounds)
Committed to Kansas
One of the top linebackers in the Sunflower League since his sophomore season, Dineen grew up rooting for the Jayhawks, so once KU offered, his recruitment was essentially over. After getting an offer from Kansas, Dineen said interest picked up from Kansas State, Iowa State, and Northern Illinois. Dineen was the Jayhawks’ first in-state commitment for the 2017 class.
10. Eli Ross, Staley
LB (6-3, 230 pounds)
Considering: Air Force, New Mexico, Southeast Missouri State, Missouri State, Northwest Missouri State and others
Ross has been a dominating force on defense for Staley for the last two seasons and recruiters love his combination of size and football intelligence. Ross already has a slew of solid offers but could easily move up the charts with college coaches with another repeat performance this season.
11. Peter Klug, Blue Valley North
DE (6-6, 250 pounds)
Committed to South Dakota
Klug received All-Eastern Kansas League honors as a junior and recruiters absolutely love his frame and ability to always be near the football. Klug landed offers from Air Force, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Tulane and Wyoming before committing to South Dakota in early August.
12. Colin Grunhard, Bishop Miege
OL (6-1, 270 pounds)
Considering: Air Force, Colgate, South Dakota and others
Grunhard, son of former Chiefs player Tim Grunhard, is a dominating run blocker and an important part of Miege’s big-play offense. His height might scare some Power Five programs away, but few players in the region are as technically sound as Grunhard. If somebody is willing to take a chance on him, they could be greatly rewarded down the road.
13. Tanner Taula, Blue Springs
TE (6-6, 210 pounds)
Considering: Columbia, Illinois State, Missouri State, North Dakota State, South Dakota, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois
With Blue Springs ranked as one of the top teams in the Kansas City area, Taula will have plenty of opportunities to increase his recruiting stock. Taula is already getting attention from plenty of FCS and Group of 5 programs, but with his frame and playmaking abilities local Power Five schools could also pay more attention.
14. Jake Springer, Park Hill South
WR (6-1, 190 pounds)
Considering: Army, Colgate, Illinois State, Missouri State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Navy, Southeast Missouri State and others
Springer been a mainstay in the Park Hill South offense since his sophomore season because of his playmaking ability, which recruiters love. If he can improve his top-end speed and show more explosiveness this season, he could play his way into a Group of 5 or even a local Power Five offer by signing day.
15. Travis Pickert, St. James Academy
TE/DE (6-5, 220 pounds)
Considering: Colgate, San Diego, Northern Colorado, Missouri Southern and other FCS and Division II schools
Pickert earned defensive line MVP honors this summer at a National Underclassmen Combine top 100 camp at Texas A&M and has around 10 scholarship offers from FCS and Division II schools. A lot of Power Five and Group of 5 coaches have told him offers are on the way with a good senior season, so he’s definitely somebody to watch.