College football recruiting has evolved over the last half decade or so. Scholarship offers go out earlier, decisions and virtual spots being taken in a given class are snatched up well before prospects reach their senior campaign at the highest level.
But there is always room for that prospect who plays his way into more attention.
Every year there are droves of seniors who force a given program's hand because of what they've done or how much they've progressed in their final prep campaign. Sometimes it's to up the standing on a school's board, sometimes the momentum gets them on the board in the first place.
There are many, but SI All-American focuses on five seniors who have turned heads and earned more attention in the 2021 season.
QB Devin Brown
We saw it last year with Jaxson Dart, who preceded Brown at Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon and went into the season without a Power 5 offer. Several came in before a dominant 2020 season, a vault into the final SI99 and a commitment to USC. Brown was committed to the Trojans when he arrived this fall, but his play has led to new offers from Ohio State, Texas, Ole Miss and several others of late. Brown will continue to take trips to see where he will play his college football.
Corner Canyon opens up playoff play Friday following Brown leading the program to a 9-1 record with 3,557 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, adding six more as a rusher. He started 17 games at Queen Creek (Ariz.) High as a sophomore and junior and did not combine for the production he is working on in 2021. Brown is being utilized more in a modern spread and as a runner, much more in line with the modern college game, as a senior and the blue bloods have taken notice.
QB Bennett Meredith
What a week it has been for the Hoover (Ala.) quarterback. Five days after throwing the game-winning score to help the Bucs beat the No. 5 team in America and region rival Alabaster (Ala.) Thompson High School, he jumped on a scholarship offer to play at Northwestern. Prior to the season, Group of Five programs were the primary options under consideration but now he's Big Ten bound.
"I picked Northwestern because for a multitude of reasons," Meredith told Sports Illustrated Wednesday evening. "For one, Coach Fitz (Pat Fitzgerald) is one of the best head football coaches in the country and just the opportunity to play for him was one I couldn’t pass up. Along with Coach Fitz, the offensive scheme really fits well with what I do best.
"Everyone up at NU is special, it’s a really special place. The culture, and energy is second to none. The facilities and campus are absolutely beautiful. On top of all of the football the school can’t go unnoticed. It’s a top 10 university in the country and life after football is a big thing for me. That caught my attention more than any other university did."
Meredith has Hoover High in the driver's seat entering the playoffs with an unblemished record along the way. He has thrown for 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions and run for four more scores. In the biggest game of his varsity career Friday night, Meredith threw for 280 yards and three scores, including the clinching connection to Jabari Gaines with just 14 seconds to play.
RB Braylon McReynolds
After the first game of the 2021 season, questions throughout south Alabama were similar -- who is Braylon McReynolds? The Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen running back burst onto the scene in a wild shootout with Pike Road (Ala.) that ended in a basketball score of 76-51. In the loss, the senior rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns, including two 80-yard bursts. He hasn't slowed down since, averaging 10 yards per carry in 2021, including one game with more than 300 yards and several over the 200-yard mark.
McReynolds is 5'9", 180 pounds and ran by his strong 2020 rushing totals (1,395 yards) by the seventh game of the season in 2021, making locals compare him to current NFL running back and former Yellow Jacket Ito Smith. Through nine games, the senior is at 1,693 yards and 23 rushing scores on the ground, the best production among backs in Alabama playing in the highest classifications (6A-7A). McReynolds' rise was rewarded with an offer to play locally at South Alabama, which McReynolds accepted earlier this month.
OT Matthew McCoy
A position change or buying into the collegiate projection is often a formula for growth when it comes to recruiting or athletic profile, and it has been the case for St. John's (Fla.) Creekside offensive tackle talent Matthew McCoy. The senior is a gaudy 6'6", 275 pounds but spent most of his time at tight end prior to 2021. Since moving to tackle this year, the scholarship offers have rolled in and McCoy has become one of the most coveted players in the region with the type of length and athleticism most programs covet up front.
Fresh off of an official visit to Ole Miss, McCoy is being targeted by Florida, Florida State, Miami, Maryland and several others jockeying for position to receive an official visit. Game visits to Gainesville, Tallahassee and Chapel Hill to see North Carolina are also in the books ahead of what should be a late decision. McCoy's newfound attention could push him towards making a decision in the traditional signing window, opening on the first Wednesday in February 2022.
WR/TE Tommy McIntosh
Similar to Brown, not every rise is about landing that scholarship offer, sometimes it is validating an early evaluation a particular coaching staff had. This is the case for Wisconsin verbal commitment Tommy McIntosh, who is having a banner senior season at Dewitt (Mich.) High School. The big body, listed at 6'5", may end up as a tight end in college but he works at wide receiver at the prep level and has been as efficient as any pass catcher nationally.
To date in 2021, McIntosh is among the state's leaders in touchdown receptions, continuing the trend from his earlier varsity seasons in which he averaged a score about every four catches. He's been even better this fall. Of his 40 receptions this season, 12 have ended in the end zone. McIntosh has 757 yards to his name through nine games, nearly matching yardage totals from 2019 and 2020 combined. The big target is a quarterback's best friend with his size, but his ball skills and length allow for even more of a margin for error.