CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Illinois coach Tim Beckman is in no hurry to name a starting quarterback, insisting that the competition to succeed Nathan Scheelhaase is wide open.
But when the Illini wrap up spring football with the Orange and Blue game Saturday, a lot of eyes will be on No. 12, the quarterback many assume will emerge as the starter. At 6-foot-5, Wes Lunt looks the part. He has the arm and pedigree — one not seen at Illinois in a while — to match.
And Beckman said he has something else — leadership and what might loosely define as work ethic.
Lunt sat out under NCAA rules last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, a season in which Scheelhaase finished up his career as an Illini favorite. For most, Lunt was out of sight. But working late on week nights, the coaching staff saw plenty of him.
"You'd be watching film and come out you'd see Wes Lunt underneath the lights running extra sprints to try to get his body better," Beckman said.
Lunt is an Illinois kid. He grew up in Rochester, just east of Springfield and a little more than an hour from the Illinois campus. In high school he led Rochester to back-to-back state titles, big games played in Memorial Stadium, Illinois' home field.
But the kid who says he grew up an Illinois fan was lured south by a shot at something new, different.
"I definitely looked at Illinois," he said. "But once you have different schools recruit you that you've never heard of ... I went out and visited, fell in love."
With the people, with the facilities financed by oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens — "unbelievable," he calls them — and with the offense, he said. While Lunt was a high school senior, the Cowboys were routinely scoring 40, 50, even 60 points a game.
The next fall he became the first freshman to start a season opener for Oklahoma State since at least 1950. But a pair of injuries limited his season to six games, and by the time he was healthy, he'd lost his job. Lunt looked to move on, finally deciding to head home.
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