Illinois may not have been able to secure a commitment from the top player in the state coming out of high school, but the Illini got him now. Tight end Luke Ford has officially been added to the Illinois football program, as announced today the school Tuesday.
Ford announced his intent to transfer from Georgia to Illinois a few days ago. In his previous statement about his decision to leave the Bulldogs, Ford cited a desire to be closer to his family due to the health of his grandparents and the cost for his family to travel to see him play each week. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith mentioned that factor in a statement about the addition of Ford to the roster.
“Luke Ford was the top-rated recruit in the state of Illinois his senior year and we worked very hard in developing a great relationship during his recruitment,” Smith said in a released statement. “It’s not unusual for athletes wanting to be near home so that family members are close by, and we are extremely happy that Luke felt Illinois was the place for him to attend school and play football after making the decision to transfer.”
Smith and Illinois have been busy adding to their roster with transfer players this offseason. Illinois previously added Miami wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Oklahoma wide receiver A.D. Miller. Minnesota defensive back Rey Estes also previously announced his decision to transfer to Illinois.
It was a busy day of decision making for Georgia football players, and this has nothing to do with Justin Fields. Georgia’s top three receivers from the 2018 season — wide receiver Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta — all declared themselves eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft on Friday.
“I could not imagine any other program preparing me for the next step the way this one has,” Ridley said in a statement shared on his Instagram account. “Thank you to coach [Kirby Smart] and the entire phenomenal coaching staff for molding me into the athlete I am today. My experience here has been nothing less than absolutely amazing.”
“After thinking through this decision and speaking with my family and my coaches, I have decided to forgo my senior season and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft,” Nauta said in a statement on his Twitter account Friday afternoon. “I truly feel in my heart that this is the best decision for me, and I am ready to pursue another life long dream of mine, playing in the NFL.”
Joining the parade of social media statements was Hardman, who said “After much prayer and thought, my parents and I have made the decision that it is best that I forgo my final year at Georgia and enter the 2019 NFL Draft.”
Ridley was Georgia’s leading receiver with 570 yards this season and a team-high nine touchdowns. Hardman was just behind him with 532 yards and seven touchdowns on 10 fewer receptions this season. Hardman had mroe receiving yards than Ridley in 2017 with 418 yards to 218 yards as both came behind Javon Wims and Terry Godwin in the stat sheet.
Nauta was Georgia’s third-leading receiver this season with 430 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His season was highlighted by a season-high 81 yards with a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama when he averaged 20.25 yards per reception. Nauta had nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns in 2017, which was a drop from his 2016 season with 361 yards and three touchdowns.
On top of all of that news, and the idea that Justin Fields is about to officially transfer to Ohio State comes the news that Georgia is also losing another tight end to a transfer. Luke Ford is leaving Georgia for another Big Ten school, Illinois. Ford announced his decision with a statement on Twitter as well, citing the health of his grandparents as a factor in wanting to be closer to them as he moves forward.