Lunt makes most of year-in-training
CHAMPAIGN — Chase Haslett has seen NFL quarterbacks, up close and in person.
That’s a perk of having a dad like Jim Haslett, currently the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator, coach in the NFL.
The younger Haslett is a redshirt sophomore quarterback for Illinois. He roomed with Wes Lunt at Camp Rantoul and watches him make effortless throws every day in practice against the starting defense. He knows the potential is there for the Rochester native to exceed the sizable expectations Illinois fans will have for the quarterback in 2014.
“My dad asked me about him, and I just tell the same thing to him that I tell everyone else,” Chase Haslett said. “He has all the features of Tom Brady. He’s smart, tall and has a great arm.”
Lunt has had to impersonate Kory Faulkner, Brendon Kay, Keith Price, Austin Boucher, Joel Stave and Connor Cook so far this season. Lunt spends his practices this fall running the Illinois scout team, mimicking the opposing quarterbacks weekly. He’d probably outplay most of them, too, if he didn’t have to sit out after transferring to Illinois in mid-June from Oklahoma State.
Three years of eligibility await Lunt — who was available to talk to the media during training camp but is not available during the season — starting next fall. For now, the 2011 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year is trying to leave his mark in practice sessions and when recruits visit.
“We check everybody’s iPads to see how much time they’re putting in on them,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Wes Lunt is studying film like he’s playing this week.”
He won’t, however. He usually sits with recruits near the north end zone. Or with his parents, Andy and Jane Lunt, who have made every Illinois home game this season.
“He likes the proximity to home,” Andy Lunt said. “He has always been an Illinois guy. He seems to really like it. He’s doing well in school, and he loves to run the scout team, plus he loves the staff.”
Lunt sits in the quarterback meetings that offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has with the group. He doesn’t stay for the entire meeting, however, because he’s needed for scout team preparation. Beckman mentioned during preseason practices and in the first few weeks of the season that Illinois has the best scout team quarterback in the country this year.
Cubit doesn’t get to see Lunt in action much at practice because the offense usually is working down near the north end zone and the scout team is stationed near the south end zone at Memorial Stadium. Cubit said he doesn’t sneak a peek down there, either, to see what Lunt is accomplishing. But he hears.
“They come in after practice and talk,” Cubit said. “I think Beck told him one time, ‘Will you please throw an incomplete pass?’ When you watch him, his ball placement is pretty unique. He puts them in spots where you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ The ball gets there a lot faster than some of the quarterbacks.”
Right guard Ted Karras concurs.
“He throws a dime,” Karras said.
Illinois has a young secondary. True freshmen Jaylen Dunlap and Darius Mosely have seen considerable playing time, with second-year players V’Angelo Bentley, Eaton Spence and Taylor Barton starting.
“He doesn’t get them pumped up much because he makes some great throws,” Beckman said. “Any time that we get to work against a quarterback of his caliber, it’s good for everybody.”
Rochester residents still keep tabs on what their favorite quarterback is up to these days. Andy Lunt gets peppered with questions when he leaves his house in the small community of 3,700 just east of Springfield.
“They ask how he’s doing more than anything else,” Andy Lunt said. “They’re excited whether or not he plays next year.”
Lunt will firmly have his name in the discussion to replace Nathan Scheelhaase next year. Beckman has said since the day Lunt decided to transfer to Illinois he would find himself competing with Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey for the starting job. Linebacker Jonathan Brown won’t be around next season, but what he has witnessed so far from Lunt leaves him impressed.
“He’s probably one of — if not the best — quarterbacks in the Big Ten,” Brown said. “He definitely gets us prepared in the passing game. He definitely makes accurate throws. He puts the ball where it needs to be, and he’s a smart quarterback. We’ve got a lot of good, young quarterbacks. Aaron is a great quarterback, great person. Wes is a great quarterback, great person, so it’s going to be interesting to see things unfold next year.”
Lunt — who lives with freshman tight ends Tyler White and Trevor Kanteman at Bromley Hall in the middle of the Illinois campus — has meshed well with his new teammates, wide receiver Ryan Lankford said.
“He’s a jokester, but he’s serious at the same time,” Chase Haslett said. “He’s not a jokester like Reilly. Reilly jokes about a lot of things. Wes is really focused on football, and I know he wants to make it to that next level. He’s not a cocky guy, so he doesn’t have that quality to him where people don’t like him. He comes in and everyone likes him because he’s so nice to everyone.”
This fall has a bit of a different feel for the Lunt family. Wes’ older brother Wil starred at Rochester before Wes and later played at Western Illinois.
“This is the first time in 15 years that we haven’t had a son playing,” Andy Lunt said. “I think he’s gotten a little time to acclimate himself to college life now, but he’s chomping at the bit to play. Of course, Aaron is a great kid, and so is Reilly. They’ve got great relationships, but he’s ready to compete.”
No. 2 climbing the charts
Wes Lunt isn’t the quarterback at Illinois. Yet. Before the ballyhooed Oklahoma State transfer gets a chance to win the job in 2014, Nathan Scheelhaase is the guy receiving snaps for the Illini. Entering today’s game against Michigan State, here’s where Scheelhaase ranks among his predecessors in the school’s record book:
Career total offense
Juice Williams 10,594
Kurt Kittner 8,880
Nathan Scheelhaase 8,697
Jack Trudeau 8,640
Jason Verduzco 7,256
Career passing yards
Jack Trudeau 8,725
Kurt Kittner 8,722
Juice Williams 8,037
Jason Verduzco 7,532
Tony Eason 7,031
Nathan Scheelhaase 6,842
Career TD passes
Juice Williams 56
Jack Trudeau 55
Nathan Scheelhaase 48
Kurt Kittner 1,264
Jack Trudeau 1,245
Juice Williams 1,136
Jason Verduzco 1,083
Nathan Scheelhaase 976
Career passing efficiency
Tony Eason 133.8
Nathan Scheelhaase 130.5
Jack Trudeau 130.4
Jason Verduzco 130.0