Illini Legends Lists & Lore: Quarterbacks' first starts

Illini Legends Lists & Lore: Quarterbacks' first starts

There's a decent chance that Fighting Illini football will have a new starting quarterback on September 1st when it hosts Kent State in the season opener.

You'll remember that Cam Thomas got his first start last season against Purdue, but AJ Bush, M.J. Rivers, Matt Robinson and Coran Taylor all qualify as first-time Illini starters.

Since September 6, 1980, when coach Mike White inserted Dave Wilson into the lineup for his debut, thirty different signal-callers have been unveiled as Illinois' starter.

Yes, there have been plenty of familiar names who had long spans of success—Tony Eason, Jack Trudeau, Jeff George, Kurt Kittner, Juice Williams, etc.—but there have been lots of other Illini QB starters whose stay in the starting lineup was, shall we say, brief.

In 1986, Shane Lamb had the unenviable task of following a trio of legends (Wilson, Eason and Trudeau). Scott Mohr and Peter Freund had their coming-out parties a year later. And Kirk Johnson and Tim Lavery made their initial starting appearances in 1997.

Do you remember the fleeting spotlight moments of Jeff Kinney in 1992, Mark Hoekstra in '96, Dustin Ward in 2000, Chris Pazan in '03, Brad Bower in '04, or Jacob Charest and Eddie McGee in '09? If you do, then you're definitely orange and blue ... through and through.

Can you guess the names of the two first-time starters who had four touchdown passes in their appearances? Bet you can't. The correct answer is Jon Beutjer (vs. Arkansas State in 2002) and Wes Lunt (vs. Youngstown State in 2014).

What do the starting debuts of Eason and Kittner have in common? Neither had a TD pass in their appearances against Pitt and Iowa, respectively.

What can Jeff George Jr. boast about in his first Illini start that his more famous father can't? Well, he tossed a TD versus Michigan in 2016, while his NFL first-pick dad put up a big zero in that category against Washington State 28 years earlier.

Who had the most interceptions in his starting debut as the Illini quarterback?

Kirk Johnson was picked four times by Purdue defenders in 1997.

Did you know that Dave Wilson and Nathan Scheelhaase are two of just eight Illini first-timers since 1980 that threw for less than 100 yards?

Illini Birthdays:

Sunday: Lon Kruger, basketball coach (66)

Monday: Steve Roth, basketball (46)

Tuesday: Mikey Dudek, football (23)

Wednesday: John "Skip" Pickering, athletics trainer (74)

Thursday: Kennedy Cattenhead, basketball (23)

Friday: Chris Silcox, gymnastics (32)

Saturday: Donny Navarro, football (19)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is

Under center

If AJ Bush wins the starting quarterback job at Illinois ahead of the 2018 season opener, the Georgia native will try to find his way onto this list. Here’s how first-time Illini starting QBs rank (since 1980) have fared in terms of passing yardage during their debut at Illinois:


1. Jack Trudeau    293 yards    Missouri    1983    Missouri, 28-18

2. Wes Lunt    285 yards    Youngstown State    2014    Illinois, 28-17

3. Jon Beutjer    266 yards    Arkansas State    2002    Illinois, 59-7

4. Jason Verduzco    255 yards    Arizona    1990    Arizona, 28-16

5. Dustin Ward    246 yards    Northwestern    2000    Northwestern, 61-23

6. Kurt Kittner    245 yards    Iowa    1998    Iowa, 37-14

7. Tim Brasic    233 yards    Rutgers    2005    Illinois, 33-30 (OT)

8. Shane Lamb    223 yards    Louisville    1986    Illinois, 23-0

9. Brian Menkhausen    221 yards    Ohio State    1986    Ohio State, 14-0

T-10. Tony Eason    204 yards    Pittsburgh    1981    Pittsburgh, 26-6

T-10. Peter Freund    204 yards    Northwestern    1987    Northwestern, 28-10

Research courtesy of Mike Pearson