WR Jeff Thomas on Illini visit: 'I loved it'

Top-50 prospect takes first trip to Champaign, may make a return official visit

For a long time, Illinois had wanted to get Jeff Thomas on campus. The Illini staff finally got someone to give the East St. Louis (Ill.) standout receiver the short drive up to Champaign on Saturday.

And now the Illini may be players for the top-50 overall prospect in the Class of 2017.

"It changes a lot," Thomas said, "because I could finally see it for myself, instead of like hearing it."

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith delayed his travel plans to Canton on Saturday -- where he will see Orlando Pace and Tony Dungy get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- for the chance to meet with Thomas, the state's top skill player.

Thomas toured campus and then met with the staff.

Garrick McGee took Thomas into the film room and showed him how he would use the slot receiver's elite speed and agility to create mismatches in his offense.

"They're cool," Thomas said. "The staff, everybody's a cool person and showing me love and all that. I loved it."

Thomas then watched the Illini's two-hour training camp practice during the afternoon.

"The way they practice (stood out)," Thomas said. "I like fast-paced offenses, and that's what they have."

Thomas released a top-six in May that included Alabama, Michigan State, Missouri, Florida State, Texas A&M and Auburn.

But Thomas -- who has visited Alabama and Mizzou -- now said he wants to return to Illinois for an official visit.

"Illinois has jumped up," Thomas said.

The East St. Louis product said he hasn't whittled down his visit list. Asked what he's looking for in a school, Thomas said, "I haven't thought about that yet."

Illinois is trying to push back into East St. Louis and have supporters there in former Illini Dana Howard and Terry Hawthorne. But Missouri has recently grabbed the most talented Flyers, including Terry BecknerNatereace Strong and Tre'Vour Simms.

Thomas said he feels pressure pulling him from both sides of the Braggin' Rights rivalry.

"It's pretty hard," Thomas said. "Because the people I went to the semifinals with, they went to Mizzou."

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