It’s been a pretty bizarre offseason, no? The “will they or won’t they?” phase is over and now it’s time to (finally) get back to ball.
Oct. 24 is rapidly approaching, and Lovie Smith will have three more new faces seeing the field.
Hightower, a former four-star prospect in 2018, had received scholarship offers from power five programs including Alabama, Clemson, USC, Florida, Michigan & Ohio State. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver caught 12 passes for 148 yards and a TD during his two seasons with the ‘Canes.
The Illini have plenty of size and length in their receiving corps, but Thompson also adds track star speed. He clocked a blistering 4.3-second 40-yard dash while in high school and a 200-meter time of 22.82 seconds in 2019 with the Tigers’ track squad. Thompson missed last season with a knee injury and played in only three games in 2018.
I didn’t include Hightower & Thompson in my season preview because, well, they weren’t expected to be suiting up this season. But the tandem was granted waivers by the NCAA, thus making them eligible to play in 2020. They’ll join a loaded position group headlined by Josh Imatorbhebhe & Luke Ford, players who, coincidentally, also transferred to Illinois. This offense should be — dare I say? — exciting.
Former Mississippi State offensive tackle Brevyn Jones will also play for the Illini in 2020. Other than wide receiver/tight end, the offensive line is the deepest group on the team. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Jones redshirted with the Bulldogs last season and will have four seasons of eligibility. The Illini return four starters on the O-line — Kendrick Green, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski. But the latter three graduate and Green could be tempted to turn pro. Another transfer, Blake Jeresaty, was slated to start at right guard before announcing he’d sit out the upcoming season due to shoulder surgery.
Illinois — certainly more than any program in the Big Ten — has milked the transfer portal to bolster the program with impact talent.
Hopefully these three can be added to that list.