CHAMPAIGN – After outdueling his two competitors, Wes Lunt will be Illinois' starting quarterback.
The news wasn't much of a surprise. Illini fans have been anticipating Lunt would lead Illinois this season, since he transferred from Oklahoma State almost a year and a half ago, even with coach Tim Beckman insisting the starting spot could go to Lunt, senior Reilly O'Toole or sophomore Aaron Bailey.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Lunt gives the Illini the kind of strong-armed quarterback they haven't had in a while.
"If you look at the numbers, he's proved he can lead this football team," Beckman said Wednesday, referring to the quarterback's training camp performance. "He's made some outstanding throws, he's made some outstanding calls."
Lunt, who is from Rochester, just outside Springfield, said winning the starting job was "a dream come true."
"It's something I wanted to happen really bad," he said. "It's why I transferred here."
At Oklahoma State, he started as a freshman, running the Cowboys' potent passing offense. But he lost his spot to injury and hasn't played in a game since an appearance near the end of a blowout win over Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day in 2013.
As he's worked off the rust, Illinois' coaches have marveled at Lunt's arm, saying he can make long cross-field throws and deliver balls with velocity and accuracy that the last few Illini quarterbacks could not.
Coaches also say he's eased into the leadership role demanded of quarterbacks.
"He's poised. He never seems to get rattled," said defensive coordinator Tim Banks, whose defense faced Lunt daily last season when he was running the scout team.
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit gave Lunt the good news before practice Wednesday. He said Lunt will have some rough moments, if for no other reason than he's still a relatively inexperienced college quarterback.
"I think his athletic ability and his football knowledge and his throwing arm is going to make up for some of those," Cubit said.
Lunt said the wait to learn he's the starter didn't affect his preparation, but was happy to have it behind him with the Aug. 30 season opener against Youngstown State less than 2 weeks away.
"Everyone was really antsy and ready for this decision," he said.
O'Toole and Bailey share the second spot on the depth chart right now, Beckman said, though Bailey isn't practicing because of a minor neck and shoulder injury.