The Jeff Thomas-Illinois saga was weird, frustrating and not normal, even for 2019
I remember standing at Under Armour All-America practices in Orlando and watching this quick, slippery receiver making plays all over the field. The thought crossed my mind.
“Wait, this is the guy who just told Alabama to take a hike because they weren’t recruiting him as hard as Illinois?”
That day, I discussed with Thomas the idea of playing at Illinois, where his East St. Louis High School assistant coach Terry Hawthorne went as a fellow former 4-star recruit. Thomas was fascinated about playing immediately for Lovie Smith, which was why the 247sports Crystal Ball had him as a 74-percent favorite to land in Champaign just a month away from 2017 National Signing Day.
Thomas then went off in the Under Armour All-America Game, and proceeded to drop Illinois out of his final choices a couple weeks later. It was a bizarre sequence of events after it seemed like the Illini were on the verge of landing one of the top recruits in the country.
But that’s nothing compared to this latest back-and-forth with Thomas.
In case you missed it, Thomas was kicked off the team at Miami this past November. The Canes’ leading receiver announced he was leaving for Illinois. Then Mark Richt retired, Manny Diaz took over and suddenly reports were that Thomas was going to go back to Miami.
A day later, though, he told the Champaign News-Gazette that he was on his way and that “he was really excited” to get started at Illinois. As a result, Illini fans breathed a sigh of relief.
But 2 days later, we got this Instagram post from Thomas announcing he was staying at Miami after all:
There’s your answer UM fans. Jeff Thomas takes to instagram to say he’s back with the Canes… pic.twitter.com/TohbQ41Wt1
— Will Manso (@WillManso) January 16, 2019
Goodness gracious. I’m winded just from typing that.
For all you Parks and Recreation fans, the Thomas situation was basically like Ben with the accounting firm.
“TED!!! HE’S HERE!!!! HE REALLY CAME!!!”
In the end, it appears that Thomas’ final, final, final answer is staying in Coral Gables. Who knows. By the time I’m finished writing this, maybe he’ll have flipped back to Illinois.
I say that not in an attempt to rib a 20-year-old kid who’s clearly been on the fence about his future for the last few months. We’ve all been there albeit in a less-public setting. Just the other day I decided 3 different times whether I was keeping or getting rid of a shirt. It happens.
What I don’t get is why all the definitive statements? Why put yourself in a position to where coaches are planning for your arrival multiple times, only to then give another contradicting definitive statement? Not to get all preachy adult here, but this is obviously not an ideal way to go about making big life decisions.
It makes you wonder, though. Illinois, which has seemingly been getting every transfer target possible in recent memory, just wasn’t able to fully sell Thomas on coming to Champaign. Maybe it was the idea of potentially sitting out a year that didn’t appeal to him, or the fact that Illinois’ passing game is a complete dumpster fire, though Miami’s wasn’t much better (No. 112 compared to No. 114 nationally).
Whatever the case, you knew there was going to be a strong reaction from both sides. That included Miami players AND coaches, who for some reason, decided to troll Illinois over not winning the tug-of-war over Thomas:
— Manny Diaz (@Coach_MannyDiaz) January 16, 2019
Yeah, not sure I get the point of that. Cool flex, guy. You kept your leading receiver from leaving your traditional powerhouse program for Illinois. Good for you?
I’d say that this is peak 2019, but I’m not sure you can chalk up a story like this to being a sign of the times. I can’t remember something like this happening for someone who’s already been in school for 2 years. This isn’t some 17-year-old kid who’s committing to new schools after each official visit he takes via a Twitter announcement. If it was, this really wouldn’t be that big of a story. And in the grand scheme of things, I suppose the headline “sophomore receiver stays at current school” won’t be the most memorable headline of 2019.
But the Thomas-to-Illinois-back-to-Miami-then-to-Illinois-and-ultimately-back-to-Miami-again thing will be one of those roller coaster internet stories that some will remember and others won’t. Surely Illini fans probably aren’t big fans of Thomas, who looked poised to step in and become the team’s desperately needed go-to receiver. If he goes on to have an All-American career that leads to an NFL future, Thomas’ burn will sting that much more.
Consider this whole story of a reminder that nothing is ever official until it’s signed on the dotted line. Also, things change in a hurry. A player can go from kicked off the team mid-season with plans to go anywhere else to back on the team in good standing in a couple short months.
Thomas is just as slippery as he was a couple years ago when I saw him in Orlando.
And for some reason, Illinois had to find that out in the most bizarre, frustrating way possible.