Updated: Lunt: 'It's a dream come true'
CHAMPAIGN — Wes Lunt said he slept fine Tuesday night.
The Illinois quarterback had to have a good idea he’d end Wednesday with the official title of starting quarterback at Illinois next to his name.
“My mentality is going to stay the same,” Lunt said. “I’ve been preparing to be the starter. So have the other guys since camp and since spring.”
Now he officially is. Tim Beckman named Lunt the starter ahead of Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey early Wednesday afternoon once practice ended. He broke the news sitting next to BTN analysts Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and Dave Revsine. BTN was in town Wednesday to conclude its annual tour of preseason practices.
“He’s proven he can lead this football team,” Beckman said. “He’s made some outstanding throws and outstanding calls. Lunt was the one who ended up performing in the end.”
Griffith said the moment he knew the Oklahoma State transfer would replace Nathan Scheelhaase happened last March during a windy spring practice that Illinois conducted at Chicago’s Gately Field.
“To me, it was clear that if you can throw in these type of conditions, that’s going to be your quarterback,” Griffith said.
“You can debate whether (Beckman) should have carried it out this long. That’s really irrelevant. Everyone knew the direction. These kids aren’t dumb,” Griffith said.
Bailey said he doesn’t have hard feelings about not getting the starting job.
“I’m happy for him,” said Bailey, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of a minor shoulder injury. “I’m excited to see what happens. Of course, you want to be the starter, but you do what’s best for the team. I’m holding no grudges.”
Beckman let offensive coordinator Bill Cubit break the news individually to Lunt, O’Toole and Bailey before practice began midmorning on Wednesday at the grass practice field on the east side of Memorial Stadium.
Beckman said he and the offensive staff met after Tuesday’s scrimmage and decided to pick Lunt. For most observers who watched Lunt in the spring and during the first two weeks of training camp, the choice was obvious.
“He can get the ball into some tight sets,” Cubit said. “We just thought he was the best one to give us a chance to win right now. I still think the other two guys can win for us.”
Beckman didn’t say whether O’Toole or Bailey is now the backup.
“They’re both probably listed as the twos right now,” he said. “Bill allowed all three quarterbacks to run with all three different groups. Wes, in the end, maybe had a couple more snaps with the ones than the other two. When we went through spring football, it was more evenly based. As we progressed throughout (fall) camp, Wes kind of started to separate himself.”
Cubit said he left the decision up to Beckman on when the quarterback was announced.
“This is the way Beck wanted it,” Cubit said. “As it turns out, the other two guys got better. Sometimes you name a guy, and the other guy doesn’t think he’s not competing, so he doesn’t get any better. It worked out well.”
Lunt was named the starter at Oklahoma State after spring practices ended in 2012. More than two years later, he’s the guy again. The timing of when the choice was revealed didn’t matter to him.
“It’s a dream come true to be named (the starter),” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity that lies ahead. I just hope I can move the offense in the right direction.”
The direction the Illinois offense takes now falls squarely on Lunt’s shoulders.
“I think a lot of people assumed (he’d get the starting job),” Cubit said. “For me, it doesn’t make a difference. I’ve got to get them all ready. I just go to work. That’s what they pay me for.”
And Cubit understands the pocket passer still has areas he needs to improve on. An All-Big Ten selection isn’t a certainty this fall, quite different from the certainty Lunt would start against Youngstown State.
“When people are in his face, sometimes those dropback guys have such a focus downfield that they lose a bit of feel when guys are coming free,” Cubit said. "That’s just natural because he hasn’t been hit in a year and a half. That’s probably about it, though.”