photo courtesy St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Illini offer 'almost like winning state' for East St. Louis defender James Knight

Illini delve deeper into East St. Louis with offer to senior linebacker James Knight

James Knight had a pretty great month of November as he helped lead East St. Louis to a Class 7A state championship, the program's eighth overall and first since 2008.

But his December started off pretty well too. On Tuesday, he earned a scholarship offer from Illinois, his first power-five offer.

"It was one of the best days, best feelings of my life," Knight said. "Almost like winning state."

East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett informed Knight of the offer on Tuesday. Illinois coach Lovie Smith visited the high school last week and left Knight hopeful that he would earn an offer.

"He was talking to me and he said he needed to see some tape," Knight said. "Then he went back and watched the state game, and coach said he fell in love with me and he liked it."

Knight is somewhat of a 'tweener at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds but could play safety or linebacker at the next level.

"They said they don't really know what position I'm going to play, but they like how I'm versatile," Knight said.

Illinois is attempting to re-tap a pipeline into the Flyers' strong program. They also have offered quarterback/athlete Reyondous Estes and top-50 overall prospect and four-star receiver Jeff Thomas. The effort seems to be paying off. Knight said the trio plans to visit Illinois this weekend.

"We're going up there this Saturday for a visit," Knight said. "I'm going to see one of my former teammates up there (freshman safety Stanley Green) and hang out with him a lot. He's going to show us around campus and stuff."

Landing the East St. Louis group would be a huge boon for Illinois. Knight said he hasn't talked much about Illinois with his teammates though "because I just got the offer today."

Illinois is Knight's biggest offer and Smith has made a "big" impact on his recruitment, he said.

"It's a good coaching staff they got," Knight said. "Playing for Lovie Smith, you can't beat that."

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