Illinois Football: Jeff Thomas Is Priority No. 1 for the Illini

The class of 2017 has been difficult to navigate for the Illinois football team.

With a new coach coming in this past March, it is hard for Lovie Smith to make an impact on the 2017 recruits in that short amount of time.

Lovie has done a pretty good job all things considered, though.  He currently has 11 recruits committed and that ranks No. 63 in the nation.

The top recruit right now is wide receiver Carmoni Green.  He is a 4-star that was a great get by Lovie from Miami, Florida.

In addition to Green, the Illini have 10 other talented players, but this recruiting class might only be beginning.

Usually, National Signing Day is an interesting day for the Illini, but this upcoming February 1 might be the biggest day in the history of the football program.

In an interview with Todd Eschman of the Belleville News-Democrat, wide receiver Jeff Thomas announced that he is down to just two programs he will decide from on National Signing Day.

The two programs Thomas is looking at are Illinois and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Thomas is a 4-star wide receiver who is the No. 78 player in the nation and the No. 2 player in the state of Illinois.

Just the fact that Illinois is in the final two with a team like Alabama means that Lovie will be a great recruiter with the Illini.  This is the Lovie Effect in full force.

I think Illinois might have an edge as well.  In the article by Eschman, he also interviews former Illinois wide receiver Terry Hawthorne.

Hawthorne was a great player with the Illini and he is also Thomas’ assistant coach with the East St. Louis Flyers.  He is also mentoring Thomas through the recruiting process as well.

Illinois is clearly on the rise in recruiting and that will eventually turn into wins.  This news about Thomas is great for the program and he would be a nice addition to the team for 2017.

I also believe there will be plenty of room on the team in 2017 as well.

DJ Taylor, Justin Hardee, Man Berg and Zach Grant will all be departing.  This is going to leave a big hole in the wide receiver core.

Malik Turner will be returning as the leading wide receiver.  He is likely to be the No. 1 going into 2017.

Behind Turner is a bunch of question marks.  Mike Dudek could come back healthy but who knows if he will ever be the same again.

I liked what we saw from Dominic Thieman, Desmond Cain and Sam Mays at times but there is no telling how good they will end up being.

So the fact that Lovie could get another 4-star wide receiver to commit for next season is huge.  Thomas and Green will be one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten.

In addition to those two coming in next season, Illinois also has Ricky Smalling.  He is projected as a 4-star by another recruiting website, so you could look at it as three 4-stars coming in.

Along with those three wide receivers, Kendall Smith is also coming into the program.  These four wide receivers will make the Illini competitors in the Big Ten for years to come.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lovie will make the Illinois football program relevant again.  He is getting the Illini in these huge recruiting battles and that is a big step forward.

If Lovie can snag Thomas it will help build this program into a national contender.  The sky is the limit for this program and We Will Win.