Transfer Lunt in another QB competition

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Transfer Lunt in another QB competition

Nathan Lunt (11)

Nathan Lunt (11)

Nathan Lunt (11)

Nathan Lunt (11)

By By: Stephen Bourbon

Wes Lunt is no stranger to a quarterback competition. He’s no stranger to winning them, either.

Lunt, a third-year sophomore quarterback who transferred to Illinois after one season at Oklahoma State, finds himself in a familiar situation as he once again must prove himself worthy of leading a team.

At Oklahoma State, Lunt enrolled early as a freshman and snared the starting position from junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh as the Cowboys’ first true freshman starting quarterback since 1993.

Lunt finds himself in a three-way battle with senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey at Illinois, with spring practices starting Wednesday. Lunt said one key to a successful quarterback competition is keeping it friendly among the participants.

“Everyone is just friends and at the end of the day, we’re all teammates,” he said. “It’s got to be, (or) it just makes the locker room uncomfortable. We’re all for the team and we want the best for the team.”

Lunt showcased his passing abilities early on at Oklahoma State in 2012. In just his second career start on the road at Arizona, Lunt threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns on 37-of-60 passing. That would be the highlight of his Cowboys career, though, as he was injured the very next week against Louisiana-Lafayette.

A knee injury sidelined Lunt for six weeks before he returned to action but he would be knocked out of a game against Kansas State in his second week back and was out for the season until he returned in mop-up duty in a blowout of Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

After deciding to transfer, Lunt, a Rochester, Ill., native, is now much closer to home, although he said the time away forced him to mature much faster.

“It was good for me to get away, to grow up in a hurry,” Lunt said. “You learn to do things on your own but now it’s nice to be close to home and be able to go home if I want to.”

Though only a sophomore, the 6-foot-5 Lunt has experience and production that Bailey and O’Toole can’t match. Lunt has passed for more yards than O’Toole in only six career appearances, compared to 23 for O’Toole, and Bailey had five passing attempts last season.

Learning offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s diverse offense has been a challenge — Lunt credits O’Toole for helping he and Bailey in that regard — but isn’t alien from the spread attack at Oklahoma State. Last season, the Cowboys were 30th nationally in passing offense, while the Illini were just three spots below.

However, Lunt is excited for the freedom that Cubit gives to his signal callers to make decisions on the field, making this competition crucial to the Illini offense in 2014.

“We can really call whatever we want, it’s all on the quarterback,” Lunt said. “All the concepts are usually the same (to Oklahoma State) but it’s how you run them out of different formations and such, that’s kind of been the new thing about it.”

Lunt watched from the sidelines for all of 2013 due to transfer rules. This spring, he’ll try to prove that he’s done just watching.

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.