UPDATE: Ford can 'make an immediate impact' at Illinois

UPDATE: Ford can 'make an immediate impact' at Illinois

The transfer market continues to pay off for Illinois football.

Two weeks after the Illini landed former East St. Louis standout Jeff Thomas from Miami, Lovie Smith's program reeled in another in-state talent on Friday looking for a new program.

Tight end Luke Ford, a Carterville product who played his freshman season at Georgia, announced on his Twitter account on Friday afternoon that he is transferring to Illinois.


The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Ford played in nine games this season for the Bulldogs, catching one pass for four yards. He was on the sidelines on Tuesday night during Georgia's 28-21 loss to Texas at the Sugar Bowl.

Ford's decision continues a recent trend of Illinois landing some impressive talent. Thomas, The News-Gazette's 2016 All-State Player of the Year, shined in two seasons catching passes at Miami, and on Thursday night, four-star linebacker Shammond Cooper from St. Louis Trinity Catholic committed to the Illini before he played in the Under Armour All-America Bowl.

Carterville is a three-hour drive to Champaign, and Ford had visited the UI campus several times during his initial recruitment process.

Illinois recruited the Class of 2018 prospect in earnest, landing in his final five schools along with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Texas A&M before Ford ended up signing with Georgia last winter.

Ford didn’t indicate, and Illinois can’t comment on Ford’s transfer until he signs a a Big Ten tender of financial aid, whether he would seek a waiver to become immediately eligible for the 2019 season

A U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant in the 2018 game, Ford is the second highly-touted in-state transfer Illinois has landed in the last two weeks.

On Dec. 21, Thomas announced he would transfer to Illinois after two seasons at Miami. The wide receiver — who won The News-Gazette’s All-State Player of the Year honor in 2016 — caught 52 passes for 937 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons with the Hurricanes, and Smith indicated Illinois would file a waiver to make him immediately eligible to play in 2019.

Normally, NCAA rules require a player to sit out a season when transferring from one FBS program to another if the player hasn’t graduated.

First-year Carterville coach Brett Diel didn’t coach Ford in high school, but the Illinois graduate did serve as Carterville’s athletic director during Ford’s time at the school in southern Illinois.

“Having a player play down in the SEC and coming home, that’s great,” Diel said. “There’s not a lot of 6-6 tight ends in the country that can run like he can. He was picked up by an SEC team for a reason. I think that he can make an immediate impact for Illinois.”

Ford played in nine games this past season at Georgia, making one catch for 4 yards during the Bulldogs’ season opener against Austin Peay.

Ford addressed rumors of an impending transfer to Illinois with reporters after the Sugar Bowl.

“You see all your friends going home on the weekend that are from Georgia and around Georgia and you’re just chilling in the dorm sometimes,” Ford said. “You want to be home. You’re like, ‘I wish I could go home.’ I barely get to see my family but I want to be able to play in front of them. They can’t make the games. With my grandpa getting more and more sick, I want him to see a couple of games. It’s hard for him to make a 10-hour drive or flight or something like that. I want my family members to come to all my games. That would be the reason I would transfer.”
Bob Asmussen contributed to this story