Thomas spurns Illini, staying at Miami

Thomas spurns Illini, staying at Miami

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CHAMPAIGN — Jeff Thomas was inside the coaching offices at Memorial Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, sources close to the Illinois football program confirmed to The News-Gazette.

By Tuesday night, the talented wide receiver’s Instagram account told a different story.

The on-again, off-again, on-again recruitment of Thomas to Illinois appears to be off. Likely for good.

Thomas posted a note on Instagram late Tuesday night indicating he would stay at Miami instead of continuing his college football career at Illinois, a little more than 24 hours after he told The News-Gazette on Monday afternoon he was “really excited,” to play at Illinois.

“Tuff (sic) decision,” Thomas wrote in his social media note. “But I have decided to keep playing football and earning my degree at the University of Miami. Huge thanks to the University of Illinois for giving me the opportunity to accomplish my future dreams. Please ... respect my decision.”

Two months ago, Thomas was squarely in Miami’s plans after two productive seasons with the Hurricanes. But the East St. Louis product, who won The News-Gazette’s All-State Player of the Year accolade in 2016 after starring for the Class 7A state champion Flyers, was dismissed from the Miami program on Nov. 21 by former coach Mark Richt just before Thanksgiving.

“We have high standards for excellence, for conduct and for committment to team for all of the young men who wear our uniform, and we will not waiver from those standards,” Richt said in a statement announcing Thomas’ dismissal. “We wish Jeff the very best as he moves forward in his journey.”

Exactly one month later, Thomas’ journey appeared headed to Champaign-Urbana. Illinois announced on Dec. 21 that Thomas had signed a Big Ten tender of financial aid, with plans to enroll at Illinois and potentially play for the Illini 2019.

Plans that, apparently, won’t happen. Miami’s coaching situation changed on the morning of Dec. 30 when Richt announced he would retire as the Hurricanes’ coach. Miami then hired Manny Diaz on the night of Dec. 30 after Diaz served this past season as Miami’s defensive coordinator.