Midwest Spotlight: Cities that are surprising hotbeds of talent
When examining talent production in the Midwest over the last five classes, Detroit and St. Louis lead the region, while Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul fall short of the numbers their populations would suggest.
Meanwhile, there are a number of smaller metropolitan areas that punch above their weight classes. Here are five of those surprising hotbeds in the region.
The most fertile recruiting territory in the great football-playing state of Ohio lives along the southernmost stretch of I-75. Cincinnati has produced more top Division I talent than any other city in the state, but its neighbor to the north, Dayton, has an argument for second place on that list.
Dayton has produced as many four-stars as Columbus over the last five class, and more than Cleveland, Akron or Toledo. The headliner of that group is in this 2022 class – five-star linebacker C.J. Hicks from Archbishop Alter. In fact, four of the 11 four- and five-star prospects Dayton has produced in the last five classes come from this 2022 group, and that does not include high three-stars such as tight end Elijah Brown and safety Delian Bradley.
DES MOINES, IOWA
The Des Moines metro area is the 83rd largest in the United States, but it has been a consistent producer of college football talent and continuing to grow that reputation. Eight players signed with Power Five schools out of Des Moines-area high schools from 2018-2020, but there are seven prospects from the area rated three-stars or higher in the 2021 class alone, and another three in the early stages of the 2022 class.
While Des Moines has not produced as many four- and five-stars as the other cities on this list, its strength is in quantity and consistency. That is not to say elite prospects are rare for the city. Current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard hails from this area and he was a Rivals100 prospect before playing at Iowa State. The 2022 class features four-star safety Xavier Nwankpa at Southeast Polk, who has been one of the Midwest’s most popular prospects in September, adding several new offers.
GRAND RAPIDS/MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN
The Grand Rapids metro area extends to the Lake Michigan shore and includes cities such as Holland and Muskegon. NFL players Kirk Cousins and the recently-retired Joe Staley hail from this area of Michigan. The talent production out of West Michigan in recent classes is surprisingly on par with big cities such as Cleveland and Minneapolis, and better than the likes of Kansas City and Milwaukee.
Players from West Michigan have signed or committed to local schools Michigan (Jalen Mayfield), Michigan State (Dallas Fincher) and Notre Dame (Nolan Ziegler), but national recruiting programs LSU (Anthony Bradford) and Ohio State (Cameron Martinez) have also come into the area and grabbed top prospects.
Indianapolis is the biggest city in Indiana, a state which features three Power Five football programs, and that may make it feel like a bigger city than it really is. It is smaller, however, than Minneapolis, Kansas City and Columbus, Ohio, yet has produced more four-star prospects in the last five classes than any of those cities, and the same number as a giant city like Chicago.
Known primarily as a basketball state, Indiana’s football reputation has been growing over the last decade. The class of 2021 has seen the city’s first non-quarterback five-star prospect after Notre Dame offensive tackle commit Blake Fisher rose to that level in the most recent update. It could go back-to-back, with Center Grove 2022 defensive end Caden Curry debuting at No. 35 in the first Rivals250 ranking of the class and knocking on that five-star door.
The city of Omaha has seen a major resurgence of talent in recent classes. After former Notre Dame and NFL offensive lineman Trevor Robinson ranked in the Rivals100 for the 2008 class, it would be 11 years before the city produced another four- or five-star prospect. Four-stars came from other areas of the state, but not from Omaha.
In the 2019 class, linebacker Nick Heinrich and quarterback Max Duggan broke that drought and kicked off the greatest run of talent the area has seen since the turn of the century. The University of Nebraska, unsurprisingly, has been the biggest beneficiary, signing Heinrich in 2019 and four-star receiver Zavier Betts in 2020. The Huskers also have commitments from Rivals100 prospects Teddy Prochazka and Thomas Fidone in the 2021 class.