College Sports

Former East St. Louis QB leaves Minnesota, will follow Thomas to Illinois

Where the wide receiver goes, the quarterback follows?

University of Illinois football coach Lovie Smith confirmed Friday that former East St. Louis wide receiver Jeff Thomas will transfer from the University of Miami to play for the Illini. 

And later in the afternoon, Rey Estes, the former East Side quarterback, announced via social media his plans leave Minnesota and join Thomas on the same playing field where they led the Flyers to the 2017 Class 7A state title.

Since converted to a defensive back at Minnesota, the athletic Estes was a redshirt freshman saw only minimal action in the Gophers’ Big Ten home win over Indiana. 

“Buckle up! I’m home!” Estes wrote on his Instagram account. “Thankful for this opportunity and chance to continue to play B10 ball!”

Smith, through a statement Friday, pledged his program’s support of Thomas and his bid to have his mandatory year of ineligibility waived by the NCAA. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Estes has thus far made no such request.

Estes bounced back from serious injuries sustained in a 2015 car crash to join Thomas in an explosive East Side air attack. 

As a senior, he guided the Flyers to a 14-0 record and the school’s eighth state football title. Estes ranked among St. Louis area leaders with 2,454 yards passing and 26 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He also ran for 533 yards and eight touchdowns.

Estes and Thomas connected memorably on a 23-yard touchdown pass as time expired to defeat Glenbard North in the 7A quarterfinals and keep their championship season alive. 

His college recruitment took as many turns as Thomas’ before he finally landed in Minnesota, though coaching changes had much to do with that.  

Initially, Thomas gave verbal commitment to play at Western Michigan University and head coach PJ Fleck. When Fleck left the Broncos, Estes shifted his commitment to Missouri. That lasted until Fleck was hired by Minnesota.

Estes said during his letter signing in January of last year, that he followed Fleck because he thought his skills as a quarterback were a match to Fleck’s preferred offensive style. 

It’s not clear if his move to cornerback played a part in his decision to transfer. 

“The journey far from over, speed bumps tend to be the obstacle when you going too fast,” Estes wrote on his social media account. “Excited to see what the future holds.”

Estes and Thomas will join former teammate James Knight, who signed on with Illinois as a linebacker following the Flyers’ state title run. A true sophomore, Knight has played in all 24 games, including two starts, since joining Smith’s defense. In 2018, he had 12 tackles and a forced fumble.