EDGY's Fighting Illini grade: C-
Illinois and head coach Lovie Smith wound up signing 23 names to the Fighting Illini's Class of 2018 and that included just four in-state names (including Chicago resident and IMG Academy grad Verdis Brown). According to the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings, the Illinois recruiting class is ranked by Rivals.com as the 50th best class in the nation and is also ranked 12 out of 14 teams in the Big Ten conference. While the Fighting Illini fell short on overall numbers of in-state names, they made strides in power states in such as Florida (10 names) along with California (four names) and Texas (four names).
Headliner of the in-state class?
IMG Academy four star ranked offensive guard Verdis Brown (6-foot-4, 290 pounds) played his first three years at Chicago Mount Carmel before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida. Brown, who originally committed to Florida State, decommitted from the Seminoles after head coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. Once Brown reopened his recruiting process, Illinois became Brown's leader and he really never wavered minus a late official visit to Missouri. Brown is physically a ready made player who will be given every opportunity to start as soon as this fall for the Fighting Illini.
Illinois also was able to sign Peoria three star ranked QB Coran Taylor (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) along with three star ranked Althoff three-star ranked offensive tackle Jordyn Slaughter (6-foot-5, 290 pounds) plus Danville two-star ranked Julian Pearl (6-foot-7, 245 pounds). Danville K Caleb Griffin was also added along with Naperville North QB Drake Davis and WR Nick Calcagno plus Maine South WR Cam Stacy.
The one who got away?
Illinois was an early leader for the state's top ranked recruit in Carterville four-star ranked tight end Lucas Ford (6-foot-7, 247 pounds) until Power 5 teams from across the nation found Ford and Carterville High School. Carter committed early to Arkansas but decommitted and reopened his recruiting in the fall. Illinois was named in Ford's final top schools list but decided to sign early in December with Georgia.
Final thoughts on the Fighting Illini recruiting efforts:
This is the second recruiting class for head coach Lovie Smith and staff and at least from an in-state perspective, the draw and initial appeal of having a former Chicago Bears head coach has yet to truly pay off on the recruiting trail, in my opinion. The players that the Fighting Illini have added the past two recruiting classes have been solid including some potential difference makers in this 2018 class. Yet the higher ranked/high profile in-state names have for the most part have looked past Illinois the past two recruiting seasons.
While the staff has continued to talk about the importance of starting its recruiting efforts first in Illinois and the greater St. Louis area, the overall results have shown that more work/effort and/or a new approach needs to be developed in the Fighting Illini's own backyard. Adding just one name North of I-80 for Illinois in the Class of 2018 must change.
Credit the Illinois staff for already getting out early and extending scholarship offers in January to several top in-state Class of 2019 names. Hopefully this will be the beginning of stronger in-state efforts for the Fighting Illinois that will see better overall results on the home state recruiting trail.