Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Names to know: 10 CCL/ESCC players to watch in 2023

St. Ignatius’ Justin Scott prepares for a play in Class 6A football playoff semifinal action at Crystal Lake on Saturday.

Thirteen Class of 2023 CCL/ESCC players signed their letters of intent during the NCAA’s early signing period, including 11 to Power Five programs. While the megaconference will lose plenty of talent with this season’s group of seniors graduating, there’s plenty of talent left.

Here are the 10 CCL/ESCC players to watch for the 2023 season.

Justin Scott, St. Ignatius

Class: 2024

Position: OL/DL

Hudl profile: https://www.hudl.com/profile/14748645/Justin-Scott

Any conference list – or statewide list for that matter – should start with Scott, the state’s top-ranked Class of 2024 prospect. Name a major college football program, and there’s a fair chance it has at least shown interest. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Notre Dame, Miami, Colorado and Oregon are his top-eight teams. He impressed with a strong junior season, earning Friday Night Drive Team of the Year First Team and IHSFCA Class 6A All-State honors.

Darrion Dupree, Mount Carmel

Class: 2024

Position: Running back

Hudl profile: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15731922/Darrion-Dupree

Dupree was a major reason for the Caravan’s run to a Class 7A state title and proved to be one of the state’s best rushers before he missed the playoffs with a leg injury. He finished 2022 with 664 rushing yards on 61 carries, 10 touchdowns and averaged 10.9 yards per carry. Power Five programs like Illinois, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Iowa, West Virginia and Rutgers have already offered and Dupree is sure to add more offers this offseason coming off a breakout season.

Derrick “DJ” Stewart, St. Rita

Class: 2024

Position: Running back

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/16137835/Derrick-DJ-Stewart

Take a look at Stewart as a defender and you won’t want anything to do with the 6-foot, 225-pound rusher. He spent much of his junior season running over tacklers and finished tied for second in the entire CCL/ESCC with 1,362 rushing yards, adding nine touchdowns. Stewart has earned some interest from some colleges and more should be interested given his size and speed.

Gabe Kaminski, Nazareth

Class: 2025

Position: Edge rusher

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15952634/gabe-kaminski

Kaminski showed off why he already has offers from schools like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Tennessee as a sophomore. He finished 2022 with 74 total tackles, 34 for a loss, along with 13 sacks, one forced fumble and a safety, became one of the most dominating edge rushers in Illinois and helped Nazareth win the Class 5A state title. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, the defensive lineman only has room to grow as he’ll create issues in the conference for the next couple seasons.

KJ Parker, IC Catholic

Class: 2024

Position: Wide receiver

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15694085/KJ-Parker

Parker became one of the most-explosive wideouts in the state this fall. He finished with 1,082 receiving yards on 37 catches with 17 touchdowns to add on to his 39 tackles and two interceptions as a defensive back during the Knights’ championship run. Wisconsin, Iowa and Iowa State have all offered, but Parker’s impressive stats and playmaking ability should have more schools offering in the next few months.

Austin Alexander, Marian Catholic

Class: 2024

Position: Defensive back

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15796157/austin-alexander

Alexander impressed in seven games before breaking his tibia. The Wisconsin commit finished the fall with 49 tackles and seven interceptions to earn CCL/ESCC Purple Defensive Player of the Year honors. Alexander was expected to make a full recovery in time to start his offseason of workouts. He’ll try to build off a successful junior season to become one of the best secondary players in the conference.

Christian Pierce, Brother Rice

Class: 2025

Position: Linebacker

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/16174008/Christian-Pierce

Pierce burst onto the scene with a dominating varsity debut this fall. He finished with 100 tackles, 11 for a loss, and four blocked passes to help the Crusaders reach the Class 7A quarterfinals and earn FND Team of the Year Second Team honors. Michigan, Texas and Illinois have already offered and more should come as Pierce will become more of a focal point on defense with the graduation of his brother, Trey, who will play at Michigan.

Nathaniel Marshall, Fenwick

Class: 2025

Position: Defensive end

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/16637011/Nate-Marshall

Watch Marshall’s highlights and you’ll see why he won the CCL/ESCC White Defensive Player of the Year and IHSFCA All-State Honorable Mention honors as a sophomore. Marshall created highlights throughout the season by either sacking quarterbacks or batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Illinois, Syracuse, Iowa State and Kent State have already offered the 6-foot-5, 250-pound prospect, and if he continues to put up impressive highlights, more should come.

HJ Grigsby, Joliet Catholic

Class: 2024

Position: Running back

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15307044/hj-grigsby-iii

Grigsby finished tied for second with the most rushing yards in the conference in 2022. He rushed for 1,362 yards on 161 carries with 16 touchdowns and averaged 8.46 yards per carry. Central Michigan was the first school to offer but Grigsby’s patience at the line for his offensive line to create holes and ability to use his 4.42 40-yard speed to escape defenders should make him an interesting prospect.

Parker Startz, Mount Carmel

Class: 2024

Position: Linebacker

Hudl: https://www.hudl.com/profile/15653468/Parker-Startz

Startz is interesting both as a college prospect and the role he’ll take on as a senior in 2023. Western Michigan, Akron, Bowling Green and Ohio have offered and other Power Five program are interested in Startz after he finished with 81 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. He’ll also try to become the defense’s leader with Danny Novickas, Damarion Arrington and Asher Tomaszewski all graduating.