CHAMPAIGN — The last time Wes Lunt moved to town, it was a big deal. A really big deal.
On June 17, 2013, the former Rochester star quarterback announced his decision to transfer from Oklahoma State to Illinois. After sitting out in ’13, Lunt played three seasons for three different head coaches: Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit and Lovie Smith.
Barring a total meltdown like a 1-11 or 0-12 finish, I think he'll be back on the sidelines in 2020.
Lunt had a successful run with the Illini.
In 2014, Lunt set the school record for passing efficiency in a season, combining with Reilly O’Toole to help the Illini to their lone bowl bid since 2011. Lunt threw for 2,761 yards in 2015, ranking among the best single-season performances in school history.
In June, with much less fanfare than the first time, Lunt returned to Champaign-Urbana. Why is he back? The simple answer: his job.
Lunt works for Federated Insurance. After a yearlong training program in Owatonna, Minn. — “I got to experience the coldest winter they’ve ever had up there.” — he took over for retiring Gary Campbell, a Tuscola resident.
“I knew there was an opening and it piqued my interest,” Lunt said.
Lunt wanted to come back to Illinois. His parents Andy and Jane live in Rochester. His brother Will lives there, too. His sister Ann is in Maroa.
“Champaign seemed like a perfect fit,” Lunt said.
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In September 2020, Lunt will marry his high school sweetheart Megan Eifert. She lives in Springfield and works in medical sales.
Lunt’s office is at his Champaign home. His company specializes in business insurance for multiple industries.
“We really do it all,” Lunt said.
Lunt’s title is marketing representative. He is the only one working for Federated in a four-county area: Champaign, Vermilion, Iroqouis and Ford.
Campbell, who worked for the company for more than two decades, has been a big help to Lunt.
“Just a really great guy and a good person to transition me into this,” Lunt said.
Change of course
When Lunt earned News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year honors in 2011, he hoped to someday play at the highest level.
The panel is made up of about 60 men and women who cover college football on a regular basis. This fall, I’m the only voter from the state of Illinois.
And he had a chance after Illinois. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, but was released in training camp.
“I could have went back, but my health was an issue,” Lunt said. “My back was beat up.”
He’s feeling better now. Lunt’s not getting hit by 300-pound defensive linemen.
Teams continued to call. The Bills asked. Canada was an option.
“My fiance said ‘Absolutely not.’ I was ready to move on,” he said,
Lunt, 25, put his playing career behind him.
“I prayed about it, talked to my family about it and just listened to my body,” he said.
“I got hurt a lot. It’s just hard to go through all of that. I want to be able to play with my kids when I’m 40.”
Rod Smith is open to using multiple quarterbacks if that’s what it will take to make the offense work best.
Lunt’s legs got beat up.
“I broke my foot in high school. Broke my leg twice in college. And dislocated my knee cap.”
Count on seeing Lunt at Memorial Stadium this season. Often.
“I think it will be great,” Lunt said. “I’m excited to go back and watch games. As a player, you probably don’t take it in that much. You are so stressed about winning and doing the best you can every Saturday.
“To be able to come in, have a drink, watch the game and relax and be like ‘Wow, this was really cool that I got to do this.’”
He has been to two games as a fan, both in 2017.
“It was really cool,” Lunt said.
He will attend as many home games as possible and sit in the stands.
“That’s the best place to watch a game,” Lunt said.
Lunt is an Illinois fan for life.
“It’s my alma mater,” Lunt said. “I’ve got two degrees from here. I played football here. I love Champaign. A great community that is very supportive. It will be a place I always root for no matter what.”
Lunt knows current Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith “a little bit.”
In his 30th year on the Illinois football beat, AP Top 25 voter Bob Asmussen is on call 24/7.
Smith recruited Lunt while he was on the staff at Indiana. And the two met in a 2012 regular-season game at Arizona.
“I thought that was an awesome hire, because I knew he was going to spread it out,” Lunt said. “I think he does a great job.”
Former Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters will join the Illini for the 2019 season. Unlike Lunt, Peters can play right away thanks to the graduate transfer rule.
“That whole transfer portal’s crazy,” Lunt said.
When Lunt wanted to transfer from Oklahoma State, his choices were limited by Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
“I got blocked from five conferences,” Lunt said. “I couldn’t go to the Big 12, parts of the SEC, Pac-12.
“Really, I had Louisville, Notre Dame and Illinois.”
Eventually, Gundy released Lunt from his scholarship.
Lunt said Peters benefits from his experience.
“There’s no question it’s going to help him,” Lunt said. “Being able to say you have played at a high level in front of 80,000 people, it does matter.”
Lunt felt more confident at Illinois because of his time with Oklahoma State.
“When you take your first snaps, you’re like ‘I think I’m good enough, but we’re going to find out real quick.’ That was the biggest advantage I had.”
Lunt had his share of ups and downs in college. He went to two bowls in four years. He played for four head coaches.
“The coaching changes were tough,” Lunt said. “I think that’s for everybody, not just the quarterback.”
He appreciates the opportunity.
“To be a starting quarterback for three years at Illinois was a privilege,” Lunt said. “I gave all I had. Obviously, didn’t win a ton. There’s nothing I would change because a lot of things you can’t really have control over with a coaching change or an injury.”
He stays in touch with former Illini tight end Tyler White, his college rooommate. And he talks to Cubit and Beckman.