Former Oklahoma State starting quarterback Wes Lunt is transferring to Illinois, returning to his home state after giving the Illini little consideration out of high school.
Lunt is from Rochester, Ill., and started five games last season as a freshman for the Cowboys but was sidelined by an injury. He was the first true freshman to open the season as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State since at least 1950.
The highly regarded Lunt will have to sit out this fall under NCAA transfer rules, but when he’s available in 2014 could be an instant upgrade for a struggling Illinois program and coach Tim Beckman, who is headed into his second season in Champaign.
Lunt said Monday that coming out of high school he didn’t really consider Illinois, in part because of turmoil surrounding then-head coach Ron Zook and his staff. Zook was fired after the 2011 season. This time, he said, he connected with Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, and loved the idea of coming home.
”Playing in your home state – there’s something about that that is special,” Lunt said at a news conference in Rochester, according to the State Journal-Register in Springfield. ”You can see family and friends at every game. That’s really nice. It’s great academics – unbelievable academics.”
The 6-4, 215-pound Lunt is a pocket passer and was 81 for 131 for 1,108 yards — 184.7 yards a game — and threw for six touchdowns last fall.
Illinois coaches can’t comment on him until his school paperwork is complete.
Lunt went to Oklahoma State after leading Rochester High School to two state championships. Over his last two seasons he threw for more than 7,000 yards and 65 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions.
He declined to say why he left Oklahoma State.
”I can’t say what it was,” he said.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy had agreed to release Lunt for a transfer after the quarterback went through spring practice, but limited his ability to transfer to schools in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference, as well as teams on the Cowboys’ schedules over the next few seasons.
The Illini finished 2-10 last fall in Beckman’s first season. With Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole at quarterback, Illinois was 11th in the 12-team Big Ten in passing yardage with 168.8 yards a game. The Illini finished the season with just 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
Scheelhaase is heading into his senior season.
Beckman hired Cubit, who had been head coach at Western Michigan, in the offseason to try to revive the offense. Lunt said he’s looking forward to a chance to run Cubit’s offense.
”Just looking at the Western Michigan quarterbacks, they threw for a ton of yards, which is fun to see as a quarterback,” he said.
Barring other roster changes, Lunt would compete with O’Toole and incoming freshman Aaron Bailey for playing time.
”I expect to compete anywhere I go,” Lunt said. ”Hopefully I become a starter.”