CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — There might be something in the water or maybe it’s what Brian Hightower is eating. Whatever it is, Illinois football coach Bret Bielema says his senior wide receiver has been showing out this fall camp.
“Brian Hightower is playing the best football since I’ve been here,” Bielema said. “I walked up to him during pre-practice flex and I said, ‘Hey, whatever pajamas you’re wearing, whatever breakfast you’re eating, keep rolling because it’s definitely turning in the right direction.”
“I just want to be the best I can be,” Hightower said. “Just working everyday. Don’t want to be back where I was last year.”
Hightower shined for the Illini in 2020 after transferring from Miami. The California native started seven games, leading the team in receiving touchdowns, but Hightower got lost in the shuffle last season only playing in four games. He didn’t catch a pass and asked to be redshirted, dealing with injuries among other setbacks.
“It wasn’t easy,” Hightower said about his situation without going into detail about what happened. “But I have my teammates, my coaches. They were all there for me. They understood what I was going through and honestly without them I wouldn’t have gotten through none of this. I feel like I’m better than ever now, you know, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.”
“He’s had a good offseason,” Illinois receivers coach George McDonald said. “It started with Tank (Wright) after the spring and he just kept building on it and building good, daily habits, when he’s come out and contributed every day and made plays so I’m excited where he’s at right now.”
Working with his fifth offensive coordinator in college, Hightower feels like this coaching staff is the right fit and mix, learning Barry Lunney Jr.’s new system during training camp.
“The feeling that he believes in me and I think everybody feels the same,” Hightower said about Lunney Jr. And it’s a feeling he hopes transitions him back into the receiver rotation this fall.