CHAMPAIGN — Tim Beckman was standing in line about 7:45 a.m. Monday, taking photos with several Illinois youth football camp participants in the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility when he received the call.
The call from Wes Lunt.
The call that confirmed the Rochester product and Oklahoma State transfer quarterback was indeed picking Illinois instead of Louisville, which won the Sugar Bowl last season and has a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Lunt has expressed sentiments since he chose Illinois last Monday about playing for the state school. The Illinois coach is sure glad he felt that way.
“We’ve talked with Wes for over a month,” Beckman said. “Getting to meet his family and everybody that’s involved in his life has been a great process. The type of young man he is, he wanted to spend Father’s Day with his father and his family, just like he wanted me to do the same with my kids and my family. But he called me up early on Monday. We were very happy.”
Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who recruited Lunt out of high school when Cubit was the head coach at Western Michigan, spearheaded the recruitment of Lunt this time around. Lunt visited the Illinois campus twice, keeping the process tight-lipped throughout.
Speculation ensued Lunt would decide between Illinois and Louisville before May ended after he visited both schools, but June rolled around and no news from the Lunt camp had broken.
Beckman and Cubit had to play a bit of a waiting game, too. Because Lunt’s transfer, which he first announced May 9, 19 days after he completed 15 of 27 passes for 122 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in Oklahoma State’s spring game April 20, came during a no-contact period, the Illinois coaches couldn’t flood Lunt’s phone with calls or make visits to see him.
“Usually when you’re recruiting a young man in December and January you have unlimited calls and you can go out and visit them once a week,” Beckman said. “In this case, it was not unlimited. You’re allowed to call once a week. He’s not a Twitter or Facebook guy, so you’re not able to contact him that way. His mom and dad have emails, so you were able to email them information.”
Beckman said he wrote Lunt a letter every day once Lunt decided to transfer, and Beckman talked to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy on several occasions throughout the past month. Beckman worked under Gundy for two seasons as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator during the 2007 and 2008 seasons before Beckman became head coach at Toledo. The two are still close today.
“I owe everything to Coach Gundy,” Beckman said. “He allowed me to have an opportunity to be a coordinator in the Big 12. We have a great friendship and a great relationship. He really enjoyed having Wes there and thinks Wes is a great player. He told me Wes would be a good addition to anybody’s program.”
The Oklahoma State starting quarterback job was a three-man competition this spring between Lunt, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Beckman expects competition at quarterback when Lunt, who will help run the scout team this fall, is eligible for the 2014 season. Reilly O’Toole, this season’s backup, will be a senior by then, and Illinois also will have incoming freshman Aaron Bailey, the most touted recruit in the Class of 2013, and Chayce Crouch from Newark Catholic (Ohio) coming in with the Class of 2014 at the position.
Beckman said he and the rest of the staff have kept the other quarterbacks in the loop about Lunt’s transfer.
“Aaron Bailey is a champion, and he understands what it takes,” Beckman said. “Same thing with Reilly. Reilly understands. He’s a good football player, but we’ve all got to get better. Nobody’s come up and said a negative thing to me about it because they know that the addition of Wes Lunt ... is going to make our football team better.”
Beckman said he informed the rest of his staff shortly after Lunt called him before word started to leak around noon Monday of Lunt’s impending move to Champaign-Urbana.
“The biggest thing is our goal has been to keep Illinois high school athletes at home,” Beckman said. “Wes Lunt was an Illinois high school athlete, and he’s an hour from here. We’re keeping him home. I know he’s a great football player. We’ve got some good football players coming in with this recruiting class. He adds to the plan we have in place.”