The 90 Illini #90: Brian Hightower
OK, new format for these. First off, I'm going to do one per day. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm already behind on counting down 90 days until September 4th, but I'll try to catch up with some morning/evening posts in the next week.
I also need to note again that this is the first year I've left a scholarship player off the list. It's typically the 85 scholarship players + five walkons (or, like 2018, 77 scholarship players + 13 walkons), but this year I have seven walkons that have to be on this list because I'm pretty sure they'll all contribute on special teams (if not find themselves in the regular rotation on offense or defense). So with 85 players on scholarship, that means I have 92 players for my list. I could change to "the 92 Illini" but 90i is a tradition around here. So here's my plan.
One, I'm going to save one of the walkons to fill an inevitable spot this summer. Last year, after I had already started the countdown, Ron Hardge left for a juco (he's now at Oregon State) so I had an empty spot. So one of my walkons will be a wildcard I can slide in at #55 if the 55th-most important Illini player chooses to leave over the summer. That walkon will be Alec McEachern. He played a fair bit last year (on special teams, at linebacker, and even a few snaps at fullback), so he's going to be the guy I save for #55 when I need to fill in a player later this summer. If that doesn't happen, sorry Alec - you deserved to be on this list.
For the second spot, I'm going to have to leave a scholarship player off the list. #91 will be a transfer who is sitting out for the season. I guess there's always a chance that the sit-out transfers get a waiver and can play this fall, so maybe I shouldn't look at it this way, but #91 is going to go to one of those guys. My choice: Brevyn Jones. He was at Mississippi State for a year, transferred to Illinois, and will now sit the bench behind a veteran offensive line. This will be a sit-out year and then he'll have three years of eligibility remaining.
The player I have at #90 is also a sit-out transfer. There's a chance he applies for a waiver and can play this year, but I'm guessing they want him to sit. Take a redshirt year during the time when we have four senior receivers and then use his last two years of eligibility in 2021 and 2022. I'm talking about him before I start the post, aren't I? On to the new and improved 90 Illini.
90. Brian Hightower
Year in school: Junior (3 years to play 2)
Height: 6'-3" -- Weight: 210 lbs.
Hometown: Leimert Park, California
High School: IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida
Former team: Transfer from Miami (FL)
Best five offers: Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame
Tom Cruise rating: 3.5 Cruises
2019 statistics: Played in 7 games at Miami, catching 8 passes for 88 yards, before entering the transfer portal in October.
Hightower was a highly recruited kid in high school. There was enough buzz after his sophomore season in HS that he ended up at IMG Academy in Florida for his final two years. At that point, his recruitment exploded and he gathered all of the offers listed above (and more). He chose Miami on March 1, 2017, briefly flirted with Nebraska, visiting there that fall, and then a December visit to Miami locked him up and he signed.
He played immediately as a true freshman, catching a touchdown pass in his first-ever game (against LSU). But in the two seasons he played there, he never broke through to the top of their receiving chart. He caught four passes in 10 games as a freshman, caught eight passes in seven games last season, and announced on October 21st that he was transferring. In April, he picked Illinois.
Path to 2020
This is the section where I'll look at a player's Illini career so far. For Doug Kramer it will be a long one - waited after signing day because Bill Cubit told him he might have a spot open up, took a grayshirt spot instead and was going to skip football in 2016, Lovie got the job, a few players left (like pocket QB Eli Peters), Lovie gave Kramer a scholarship in the summer of 2016, he redshirted, he started as a redshirt freshman, and now he should be one of the top five centers in college football.
For Hightower (and the incoming freshman), there's no real path yet. Everything you need to know is covered in their background.
There's a chance Hightower applies for a waiver (or perhaps I should say that there's a chance Hightower will get a waiver approved) so that he could play in 2020 without having to sit his transfer year. But that would eliminate year three of his four years, giving him only one more season of college football. And with senior receivers across the roster (Josh Imatorbhebhe, Ricky Smalling, Trevon Sidney, fellow-transfer Desmond Dan), it would be much better for Hightower to take his unused redshirt year, sit for 2020, and then be Bhebhe's replacement as the jump-ball-catcher in 2021 and 2022.
If he does get a waiver, you'll see me campaigning for a Chase Brown scenario. Brown transferred to Illinois from Western Michigan, got his waiver approved to play right away, played in four games... and then sat the rest of the season to preserve his redshirt. Had he played in a fifth game, he'd only have two seasons left. As it stands, he has three. So here's hoping Hightower joins him for both 2021 and 2022. The more fifth-year seniors, the better.
That's why I'm putting Hightower at #90 (and left Brevyn Jones off the list entirely). I believe both will sit for the full year and then play out their eligibility after that (Hightower for two seasons, Jones for three). If this was talent-only, Hightower would be much higher. As it stands, he's a scout team guy for this year, so he goes in at #90.