Jeff Thomas

Illinois in-state recruiting class recap

Illinois in-state recruiting class recap

EDGY's Fighting Illini grade: B

The Fighting lllini Class of 2017 was a stark change from 2016 in a very positive way, especially from an in-state perspective. Illinois and head coach Lovie Smith signed 23 players to Letters of Intent on Wednesday with nine being in-state recruits. Besides the total number of in-state recruits being increased from two in 2016 to nine in 2017, this is also a much deeper and talented local class. Illinois added some very strong names, and players who have a chance to bolstering the overall roster depth in a big way.

Headliner of the in-state class?

Brother Rice four-star ranked wide receiver Ricky Smalling (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) was a consensus All-State player and Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2017. Smalling, who pledged to Illinois over offers from the likes of Missouri, Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, committed to the Fighting Illini very early on (April 2016). Illinois was able to hold off several other schools, while Smalling was also key in helping the Illini land several other in-state commits.

[RELATED: What we learned on Signing Day for Class of 2017 in Illinois]

The one who got away?

East St. Louis four-star ranked wide receiver Jeff Thomas (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) was a nationally ranked recruit who signed to the University of Miami on Wednesday. Thomas had Illinois in his top schools list very late in the progress and at one stage listed them as a leader. It seemed that once Thomas hit the national stage with an MVP performance at the Under Armour All-America Game, Illinois was suddenly out of the picture.

Final thoughts on the Fighting Illini's recruiting efforts:  

Overall, this was a positive first step and first in-state signing class for the Fighting Illini under Smith. Illinois landed a consensus Top 10 headliner in Smalling, along with several very solid names that have a chance to battle for early playing time. Most importantly is that Smith and his staff found in-state coaches, players and parents very open and welcoming. Illinois can certainly build off of its first in-state recruiting class success and continue to build those relationships. How can Illinois take the next step and begin to land more higher profile names? Winning and making positive progress on the field. Illinois has a lot to sell recruits but improving the product on the field is the No. 1 priority.

National Signing Day 2017 Preview

National Signing Day 2017 Preview

Wednesday is National Signing Day as high school football players from the Class of 2017 sign letters of intent. Here is an early preview of what to expect in Illinois and nationwide:

How will the Class of 2017 shape up compared to previous in-state recruiting classes? 

It will be considered a very strong overall class based off recent history. Heading into the week, I identified 76 players who are expected to sign FBS letters of intent. This would be the highest amount since the Class of 2005 (80 FBS scholarships). There are also 30-40 players expected to sign FCS letters of intent. It will place the class with over 100 DI scholarships, well above the 10 year average.

Top 5 local recruits for the Class of 2017?

1. AJ Epenesa (DE) Edwardsville

Epenesa (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) has been verbally committed to Iowa since Jan. 2016 and is also the son of former Hawkeye lineman Eppy Epenesa. Obviously, Iowa had a relatively easy time recruiting and landing him.

2. Jeff Thomas (WR), East St. Louis

Thomas (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) has been a major impact player for head coach Darren Sunkett's 7A state champion Flyers since his freshman season.

3. Isaiah Robertson (S), Neuqua Valley

Robertson (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) is committed to Notre Dame and already enrolled in classes in South Bend. 

4. Kevin Jarvis (OG), Maine South

Jarvis (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) is committed to Michigan State. Jarvis showed his overall talent and versatility in 2017 by helping lead Maine South to the Class 8A state title. Jarvis was an impact player for the Hawks on both sides of the line, a rarity at the 8A level.

5. Cole Kmet (TE), St. Viator

Kmet (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) rounds out the list. He is another Notre Dame commit who has all the tools that colleges look for in an elite tight end.

Are there any top ranked recruits that will wait until National Signing Day to reveal their college choice?

All eyes will be on East St. Louis Wednesday morning. Thomas will make his college choice known via a national TV audience. The announcement is tentatively set for 9:00 a.m. Last week, Thomas narrowed down his Top 3 schools to Miami (FL), Oregon and Louisville. My best guess? Thomas will commit to the Hurricanes. 

[MORE: Edgy Tim goes 1-on-1 with Warren Township wideout Micah Jones]

When it comes to statewide talent, which positions are considered a strength?

Defensive linemen. Not too long ago, Illinois was known as a stronghold for big offensive tackles. However, over the past few years defensive linemen have taken center stage. Out of the soon-to-be-released Top 100 rankings for the Class of 2017, 22 defensive linemen made the cut. It is the largest amount of any position in the class. Offensive linemen, wide receivers and linebackers all feature at least 15 or more recruits in my Top 100.

Which position is considered a weakness in Illinois?

Quarterbacks. In the aforementioned Top 100 rankings, only four quarterbacks made the cut. No quarterbacks made the Top 20. A handful of quarterbacks will ink FCS letters of intent and the rest will fill up several NAIA/DIII rosters in 2017. It's been awhile since we've had a surplus of recruits receive FBS scholarships. However, the Class of 2018 seems to show more promise than this current group at this same stage a year ago.

Which schools will have a good National Signing Day in regards to landing students from Illinois?

I feel that Illinois did pretty well with in-state recruiting. They've landed some impact players who have a solid chance to make an immediate contribution. I also feel that Northern Illinois did well and might have landed one of their better overall in-state classes in years. I was also impressed with Iowa, Wyoming, the service academies (Army/Navy/Air Force) and also Yale. Seriously ...Yale? Yes, the Bulldogs pulled standout Marist linebacker Micah Awodiran away from several Power 5 schools. Yale also added former Iowa State commit in offensive lineman Tyler Jost.

Work to do

While hundreds of recruits will sign letters of intent on Wednesday, several still have to get going in the classroom. I know of at least 5-7 players from my Illinois Top 25 who are — at best — borderline academic qualifiers and/or need post very strong spring semesters to clear various college admissions departments.

*I will have more in-depth looks and breakdowns of all in-state FBS and FCS college recruiting classes later this week.*

Recruiting News and Notes: Jeff Thomas releases his Top 5 schools list

Recruiting News and Notes: Jeff Thomas releases his Top 5 schools list

Class 7A IHSA state champion East St. Louis has been a hub of recruiting activity over the past few weeks and will remain busy until National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

East St. Louis All-State safety James Knight (5-foot-10, 198 pounds) gave head coach Lovie Smith and Illinois his verbal commitment on Monday. 

"It's right next to home and I like their coaching staff," Knight said. "I really like coach Smith and their program. It feels like home for me."

Four-star ranked wide receiver Jeff Thomas (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) released his Top 5 schools on Twitter and plans to announce his college decision on Feb. 1.

Thomas made an official visit to Illinois, but canceled a planned visit to Louisville last weekend because of poor weather in the area. Thomas has one more official visit planned to Miami this weekend and mentioned Oregon and Tennessee on his list.

On Wednesday, East St. Louis two-star ranked quarterback Rey Estes (6-foot-0, 161 pounds) announced that he was giving Minnesota his verbal commitment.
Estes was originally committed to Missouri but decided to reopen his recruiting.

[PREPS: Loyola QB takes a different route to college football]

One local player to keep tabs on is Oak Park-River Forest senior wide receiver Jared Scott (6-foot-6, 215 pounds). Scott has been impressive on the hardwood for the Huskies, and has also seen his football recruiting stock take off with a few weeks left before National Signing Day. Scott has added football scholarship offers from Western Michigan and Wyoming, while several FCS schools have shown late recruiting interest.

Johnsburg All-State running back Alex Peete (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) had a handful of DII scholarship offers on the table, but earlier this week decided to give DIII football powerhouse University of Wisconsin-Whitewater his verbal commitment. 

"I just really like the coaches at UW Whitewater," Peete said. "They kept recruiting me hard and I also just feel very comfortable at Whitewater. UWW has a great winning tradition and I want to get a chance to play for national championships. The combination of athletics and academics at Whitewater along with being a bit closer to home really was the biggest difference for me."