Well, Illinois football just received some pretty terrible recruiting news. 2018 four-star defensive back Houston Griffith (IL) narrowed his college list to seven schools on Wednesday afternoon, and the Fighting Illini were a notable absence.
Florida State, Penn State, Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame remain in the running for the former Mount Carmel star.
Griffith is currently rated as the No. 51 overall player and No. 8 cornerback in the class by 247Sports. He boasts scholarship offers from just about every high-major program in the country, and most would argue that puts him out of realistic reach for Illinois.
But you know what? The Orange and Blue held an advantage over every other school in this recruitment.
Houston is the son of former Illinois star and BTN analyst Howard Griffith. During his playing days in Champaign, Howard racked up over 3,168 yards from scrimmage to go along with 33 career touchdowns. Additionally, Griffith set the NCAA record for touchdowns in a single game on September 22, 1990 when he crossed the goal line an incredible eight times in a win over Southern Illinois.
It’s easy for Illinois fans to sit back and say “we can’t expect to get this type of player until the team starts winning games”, but that type of complacent attitude does not apply in this instance. We’re talking about a legacy recruit. It’s absolutely fair to expect results, regardless of the program’s current state. Qualifying for the race is better than sitting on your ass at home.
At the same time, though, I don’t want to type away and put 100% of the blame on Illinois for dropping the ball here. Lovie Smith and his staff probably did all they could. When Griffith transferred to IMG Academy last Fall, the Fighting Illini even hired the prep school’s defensive coordinator as an assistant.
Exclusion from this list means there wasn’t any pressure to consider the state school. And that’s unfortunate considering the unique circumstances mentioned above.
Illinois’ 2018 class is off to a painfully slow start with just three verbal commitments. Several top targets are already off the board, and progress with the next tier of players doesn’t look promising, either.
Hopefully, the Orange and Blue can find a way to finish strong like they did for 2017. But if not, Year 2 of the Lovie Smith era may be a missed opportunity.