‘I was looking for head coach with ties to NFL’: 3-Star WR Patrick Bryant Commits To Illini’s 2021 Class

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Patrick Bryant is the first verbal pledge toward a critical wide receiver position group that will help define the 2021 recruiting class for Illinois.

Bryant, a three-star 6-foot-3 receiver out of Jacksonville, Florida, announced his verbal commitment to a growing 2021 recruiting class for Lovie Smith’s program but represents the first wide receiver to commit in what is now a seven-player group.

Bryant who reportedly, according to 247Sports.com, ran a 4.87-second time in the 40-yard dash at the The Opening Regional prospect camp in February chose the Illini over scholarship offers from West Virginia, Penn State, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana.

Bryant used Twitter to announce his commitment announcement Sunday afternoon would come down to Illinois and West Virginia but the NFL experience of Smith, a fifth-year head coach who spent two decades in professional football prior to arriving at Illinois, won over the Florida product in a quick recruitment after the Illini offered in late April.

“When coming down to my last two schools, I was looking for somewhere that has a great football program, a great wide receivers coach and a head coach with college experience but also ties to the National Football League,” Bryant told Illini Now/Sports Illustrated.

Bryant was offered a scholarship by Illinois on April 21 and is being primarily recruited by Illini wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker. Hayes-Stoker joined Lovie Smith’s Illini staff shortly after he was named head coach and Hayes-Stoker worked under Smith with the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a total of nine seasons, including five in coaching roles. Illinois is hoping for the commitment of Bryant to continue its tradition of solid recruiting efforts in the state of Florida.

“I created a great relationship with Coach Stoker back going back to the summer of my 10th grade year at the Kennesaw State mega football camp and we’ve had a great connection ever since,” Bryant said.

Bryant was an All-First Coast first-team selection by the Florida Times-Union and participated in the Legend's Football All-Florida Junior Showcase after earning 45 receptions for 684 yards and 11 touchdowns in his junior season at Atlantic Coast High School.

Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Casey Washington (8) and wide receiver Donny Navarro (86) during a game against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois 2021 three-star receiver commit Patrick Bryant is hoping to have similar success in the Illini spread offense that Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) had in 2019. Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver is clearly a pressing need for the Illini in this 2021 class as they’re due to lose leading targets Josh Imatorbhebhe, Trevon Sidney and Ricky Smalling to graduation.

Bryant’s highlight tape, done by Sports Illustrated’s All-America staff, shows the receiver, who will be a three-year starter at his high school, already coming to the Illini program with very reliable hands and a consistent target over the middle and in the red zone similarly to how Illinois currently uses bigger, physical pass catchers like Imatorbhebhe.

Bryant joins three-star defensive back Daniel Edwards and three-star linebacker Trevor Moffitt as Illini 2021 verbal pledges from the state of Florida and becomes the 11th high school player from the Sunshine State to either verbally commit or sign with Illinois over the last three recruiting cycles.

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