Illini add another impactful transfer

Miamis+Brian+Hightower+catches+a+pass+as+D.J.+Ivey%2C+top%2C+defends+in+the+second+quarter+of+the+Hurricanes+spring+scrimmage+at+Hard+Rock+Stadium+in+Miami+Gardens%2C+Fla.%2C+on+Saturday%2C+April+14%2C+2018.

Photo Courtesy of Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS

Miami’s Brian Hightower catches a pass as D.J. Ivey, top, defends in the second quarter of the Hurricanes’ spring scrimmage at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Saturday, April 14, 2018.

By Alec Busse, Assistant Video Editor

On Tuesday afternoon, Miami wide receiver transfer Brian Hightower announced on Twitter that he is transferring to Illinois for his last two years of eligibility.

In his seasons with the Hurricanes, Hightower played in 18 games, had 12 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown. In high school, Hightower was a top-160 four-star prospect, according to 247Sports.

Hightower is the second player from Miami to transfer to Illinois after junior linebacker Derrick Smith moved to Champaign in August.

Entering the 2020 season, Illinois returns its top three wide receivers: Josh Imatorbhebhe, Trevon Sidney and Ricky Smalling. However, after the 2020 season, all three are expected to graduate, which leaves the Illini with a lot to replace entering the 2021 season.

Hightower is expected to have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but the NCAA is expected to vote on allowing student-athletes to transfer one time without having to sit out a season.

If the NCAA passes new transfer rules, Hightower would be immediately eligible to play this fall, but he would have to pass Imatorbhebhe or Smalling on the depth chart. It doesn’t seem likely that Hightower could pass Imatorbhebhe, but he could possibly take reps from Smalling, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

If Hightower is immediately eligible, he becomes another good end zone target for senior quarterback Brandon Peters. On one side, Peters would have the 6-foot-2 Imatorbhebhe, and on the other side, he would have the 6-foot-3 Hightower.

Peters also figures to have Sidney in the middle, who has the best hands on the team, and former Georgia tight end Luke Ford. Clearly, Peters has plenty of weapons at his disposal.

As exciting as it could be to have Imatorbhebhe, Smalling, Sidney and Hightower all playing receiver in 2020, Hightower’s biggest impact is expected to come in 2021.

In 2021, Hightower figures to slide into Imatorbhebhe’s role as the go-to outside target that has a large catch radius. Illinois has lots of young wide receivers, but they don’t have lots of experience, especially on the outside.

Rising sophomore Casey Washington had 11 catches for 132 yards as a freshman. Dalevon Campbell is also a rising sophomore, but he primarily played special teams as a freshman in five games before he suffered a season-ending injury. Redshirt sophomore Edwin Carter has two career touchdown catches; both came in 2018 against Western Illinois, but he was forced to sit out 2019 season as he recovered from a very serious leg injury he suffered on one of those touchdown catches.

Illinois continues to be very successful in the transfer market over the last two offseasons, and they shouldn’t be done this summer because they still have two available scholarships. The Illini still need help on the defensive line and could also look to add depth to the offensive line before the end of the summer.

@alec_busse

[email protected]