Lunt delights Springfield crowd

Lunt delights Springfield crowd

SPRINGFIELD — Wes Lunt walked down the long concrete path.

As the Rochester native approached the FieldTurf at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin’s stadium, a line of children stood off to his right.

He, like many of his Illinois teammates who made the walk from the nearby locker rooms to the playing surface, stuck out their hands to the youngsters. The children reciprocated the gesture, much to the delight of the young Illinois fans.

“It’s surreal,” Lunt said. “I was in their position once. I know I wanted a lot of kids’ autographs. Anything I can do to help those kids out, I’m willing.”

And share some local cuisine tips with his teammates. Horseshoes, a Springfield delicacy featuring Texas toast, french fries, a choice of meat and cheese sauce all piled on top of the bread, were handed out to select players for a team competition held before Friday night’s practice. Lunt, however, wasn’t on the winning end and couldn’t dip into his preferred horseshoe featuring buffalo chicken.

“I don’t get any, but I’ve had it many times,” Lunt said with a laugh. “I don’t know how they’re going to travel with the cheese sauce, so good luck with that. I’ll go get mine fresh.”

It was a sweet “homecoming” to Springfield for the 20-year-old Lunt, who grew up in nearby Rochester.

The Oklahoma State transfer had many friends and families who wanted to catch a quick word with him after the 21/2-hour scrimmage that the Illini went through Friday night. Especially early.

Lunt connected with wide receiver Geronimo Allison for a 45-yard touchdown pass within the first five minutes of the scrimmage.

“We’ve been working all week on just being consistent,” Allison said. “The ball was up in there, and I just had to attack it to make big plays.”

That pass brought the spectators out of their seats and onto their feet within the first five minutes of the scrimmage.

“He had a good one, didn’t he?” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “It’s good to see him play well. He’s progressed throughout these 12 practices.”

Beckman was appreciative of the support the crowd showed, along with the help Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin coach Ken Leonard — whose son Derek coached Lunt at Rochester — provided in allowing Illinois to come to Springfield.

“In the 21/2 years I’ve been here, the relationship I’ve built with the Leonard family has been outstanding,” Beckman said. “They’re great, great people and great coaches.”

Beckman hasn’t declared a starter at quarterback yet. Reilly O’Toole also impressed Beckman on Friday night with a 17-yard touchdown run to go with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Martize Barr. Aaron Bailey also connected with Justin Hardee on a 45-yard touchdown pass that was called back because of holding.

But the night belonged to Lunt.

“Wes looked good,” wide receiver Mikey Dudek said. “All the quarterbacks did, but he put balls where they needed to be. He did a really good job.”

So did the offense.

“I thought the offense did awesome,” Lunt said. “All quarterbacks produced, and we all moved the ball. That was the mind-set coming in: to start fast and continue that throughout the practice.”

Lunt didn’t display any nerves before the scrimmage. During the scrimmage. Or after the scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit liked what he saw from Lunt.

“He played really well,” Cubit said. “He had to have a good day because you want him to feel good when he walks off there. There’s a little bit more of a pressure on him because there’s that many people there to see him. It worked out really well.”