CHAMPAIGN — The machinations of Jadon Thompson’s commitment to Illinois football were clearly in motion Saturday afternoon during the Illini’s junior day and open practice at Memorial Stadium.
Thompson dropped some fairly strong hints. The Marist wide receiver even said as much when detailing the relationship he had built with the Illinois coaching staff.
"I just feel like the coaching staff, we really bond together," Thompson said Saturday afternoon. "It’s a family really. I look at them as family here now even though I’m not here yet. I just gave a hint."
Thompson made his commitment official early Monday afternoon with a video posted to Twitter. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound wide receiver was Illinois’ third commitment in less than 24 hours, joining three-star Simeon offensive lineman Marcus Harper II and four-star Trinity Catholic (Mo.) running back Reggie Love III. Harper and Love, who both attended Saturday’s junior day, committed Sunday to jump start the Illini’s 2020 class.
"I’m actually liking it and getting to build bonds with the other recruits out here," Thompson said. "There’s a lot of good people out here. Illinois, it’s my home state. I see who’s really rocking with it."
— Jadon Thompson1️⃣ (@Jay_Thompson5) April 8, 2019
Thompson is considered a consensus four-star recruit. The Chicago native is a top five player in the state and is ranked as high as the No. 157 overall prospect in the 2020 class by Rivals. His list of offers is just as impressive as Harper and Love, with Thompson picking the Illini over the likes of high major programs Boston College, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Purdue and Virginia Tech.
Thompson also fills a position of need — even though he’s still one final high school season away from joining the Illini. He’ll help address a critical lack of wide receiver depth when he arrives on campus 13-plus months from now.
The idea of playing early at Illinois was where Thompson dropped another hint Saturday that he might be an Illini.
"(Wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker) broke it down to me and (offensive coordinator Rod Smith) broke it down to me," Thompson said. "Just showed me how I could play early and who would be here when I’m here."
That’s when future Illinois tight end Griffin Moore — a 2019 signee — chimed in that Thompson was giving it away again. Moore spent time with Thompson when the Marist receiver visited campus in January and was doing so again Saturday afternoon.
"I’m not implying that I’m coming here," Thompson said.
"But you are," Moore chimed in.
Moore was right, of course, even if Thompson pushed up his own schedule for committing by seven months. He told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope at the beginning of this month that he was targeting his Nov. 8 birthday to commit.
Once he arrives in Champaign, Thompson has the potential to be a serious improvement to Illinois’ passing game. He finished his junior year at Marist with 51 receptions for 759 yards and 10 touchdowns in helping lead Marist to a deep postseason run. The RedHawks (11-2) lost to Brother Rice in the Class 8A state semifinals.
"I feel like I just bring versatility," Thompson said. "I can play outside or inside. I can be a deep threat, or I could be a quick receiver and get a jet or a slant and take it all the way."
Illinois’ lack of success on the field in Lovie Smith’s first three seasons (a 9-27 overall record and 4-23 mark in the Big Ten) didn’t deter Thompson from picking the Illini, who were the first major program to offer him his sophomore season. He’s looking to build something in Champaign, which the Illini are trying to double down on with their 2020 class that went from zero players 48 hours ago to the No. 30 class in the country, per Rivals, by Monday afternoon.
"They’ve got a new facility coming," Thompson said. "They’ve got new players coming. The 2019 class, they did a really good job with that. I just see it as going in the right direction."