Last year, Lovie Smith wasn’t yet at the helm at Illinois for National Signing Day, but he has been able to put his stamp on the Illini’s 2017 recruiting class.
Smith was able to recruit well in-state, bringing in nine solid players from Illinois. But, perhaps of equal importance, the Illini competed well on a national level, landing six recruits from talent-rich Florida.
Another tactic utilized by Smith and his staff is poaching a couple junior college players to come in and fill some immediate needs. Delshawn Phillips, the third-ranked JUCO ILB could be in line to fill Hardy Nickerson Jr.’s vacated spot, while QB Dwayne Lawson, who was a 4-star recruit out of high school and played a season at Virginia Tech, will compete for the starting job.
Overall, the class is special for its consistency. There are no major players, but Smith landing 20 3-star players certainly bodes well for the future.
Below is a list of each Illinois commit in its 2017 class, including their positional ranking, star rating, and hometown.
Illinois 2017 recruiting class, rankings
|3-star ILB||Delshawn Phillips||3||Detroit (Garden City CC)|
|3-star QB (Pro)||Dwayne Lawson||5||Tampa (Hutchinson CC)|
|3-star OG||Larry Boyd||25||St. Louis|
|3-star WDE||Owen Carney||31||Miami|
|3-star DT||Kendrick Green||31||Peoria|
|3-star SDE||Olalere Oladipo||37||Huntley, Ill.|
|3-star QB (Pro)||Cameron Thomas||44||Chicago|
|3-star TE||Louis Dorsey||47||Jacksonville|
|3-star OG||Howard Watkins||48||Cincinnati|
|3-star WR||Ricky Smalling||52||Oak Lawn, Ill.|
|3-star SDE||Deon Pate||56||Jacksonville|
|3-star RB||Mike Epstein||59||Fort Lauderdale, Fla.|
|3-star RB||Ra’Von Bonner||70||Cincinnati|
|3-star WR||Carmoni Green||74||Miami|
|3-star OLB||Marc Mondesir||97||Chicago|
|3-star OT||Vederian Lowe||109||Rockford, Ill.|
|3-star OT||Alex Palczewski||120||Mt. Prospect, Ill.|
|3-star WR||Tony Adams||131||St. Louis|
|3-star WR||Kendall Smith||140||Bolingbrook, Ill.|
|2-star S||James Knight||170||East St. Louis, Ill.|
|3-star CB||Nate Hobbs||210||Louisville|
*ranking among junior college transfers
What is Illinois’ recruiting class ranked?
Early enrollees: 4
5-star commits: 0
4-star commits: 0
3-star commits: 20
Illinois 2017 signing day schedule
Illinois National Signing Day preview, storylines
Can Lawson work his way into starting lineup?
Dwayne Lawson was once a 4-star prospect, but after just a season at Virginia Tech he left in favor of junior college. He’s back in the D-1 ranks, but it remains to be seen how much he’ll see the field his first season in Champaign. Last year’s starter Wes Lunt is gone, leaving returners Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr.
It would night be a surprise to see Lawson starting under center Day 1.
Who else makes a splash offensively?
The Illini returns two perfectly capable receivers in Mike Dudek and Malik Turner, but will any freshman be able to step in and make an immediate impact, as Dudek did a season ago. Aside from the aforementioned Lawson, wide receiver Ricky Smalling in likely the newcomer with the most promise. Another wide receiver, Carmoni Green, could assume that role, as well.
A dark horse is running back Mike Epstein, who played for national high school power St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. He turned down a few nice offers—Louisville, Utah, and more—to come to Illinois, and, given the schedule he played and talent that surrounded him in high school, the learning curve may not be quite as steep for Epstein as it is for others.
Any more commits?
Smith has done an admirable job stock-piling solid talent, but is he finished? There are still a few uncommitted players available that are considering the Illini, but chances are any shot at a 4-star (or higher) went out the window when East St. Louis (Ill.) wide receiver Jeff Thomas eliminated Illinois from his list.
A couple to watch: 3-star defensive end Bobby Roundtree, who visited the Illini in November and who received a visit from Smith at his school last week. Another would be 3-star wide receiver Jordan Hill. It would not be a surprise to see either—or both—come on board.