A big portion of Illinois' success in 2019 came thanks to contributions from Power Five transfers, and this week Lovie Smith added another from the portal with the commitment of former Miami wide receiver Brian Hightower.
Hightower entered the NCAA transfer portal back in October, and did not see action for the Hurricanes down the stretch of the regular season. While officially logging appearances in seven games, Hightower only recorded receptions in two, hauling in a total of eight catches for 88 yards in back-to-back non-conference wins against Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan.
"I've been in the dark but I promise you'll see a brighter me," Hightower wrote in a post to Twitter with a photo of him in an Illinois uniform.
Hightower was a four-star prospect in Miami's 2018 recruiting class, ranked as the No. 27 wide receiver in the country. His playing status as a junior for 2020 is undetermined at the moment, but he does have working in his favor the potential of the one-time transfer rule being passed and a wavier process that could rule in his favor based on limited action for Miami in 2019.
What Illinois fans are hoping is that Hightower's case plays out differently than what they saw with former Miami receiver Jeff Thomas a year ago. Illinois initially received a commitment from Thomas only to see him back out and choose to return to Miami for the 2019 season. But even without Thomas in the fold, Illinois was able to lean on transfers from USC, Michigan and other Power Five schools to help power the team's first bowl appearance since 2014.