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Illini football’s Lunt ready to improve game, NFL Draft stock

Illinois%27+Wes+Lunt+looks+to+pass+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Iowa+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Nov.+15%2C+2014.+The+Illini+lost+30-14.
Illinois' Wes Lunt looks to pass the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014. The Illini lost 30-14.

Illinois' Wes Lunt looks to pass the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014. The Illini lost 30-14.

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois' Wes Lunt looks to pass the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014. The Illini lost 30-14.

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

Illinois football’s starting quarterback Wes Lunt is in an interesting spot this season.

Head coach Lovie Smith has only been at the head of the team for about five months and has made it clear that it will take a multi-season process for the program to reach his expectations.

But Lunt doesn’t have multiple seasons: He is the face of the present for a team looking toward the future.

And while he’s focused on this season, he’s also looking to the future.

“Everyone’s goal is to play in the NFL,” Lunt said. “I am no different. But I know that there is a long road leading up to it and it all starts when our training camp starts up in August.”

Lunt’s arm strength has put him in the NFL conversation since he started his first games in Champaign in 2014. If Lunt is drafted, he will be only the third Illini quarterback drafted in the past 30 years.

Lunt led the Big Ten in completions last season and ranked sixth in the conference in passing yards.

Leading up to this year, he has been named to four different watch lists, two of which for best quarterback in the nation, one for offensive player of the year and one preseason list naming him as the “strongest arm in the Big Ten.”

But for Lunt, this season is about improving other parts of his game and not just riding his arm strength through the season.

“I want to be more effective with my feet,” Lunt said. “Whether that’s running or just moving in the pocket to get a throw off.”

Becoming more mobile would be a big change to Lunt’s game. He didn’t record his first collegiate rushing touchdown until last year’s matchup against Northwestern and was sacked 18 times overall last season.

Smith said Lunt made an early impression on him. He heralded his leadership and experience. Smith said he hadn’t thought about it enough to compare him to an NFL player, but did mention that Lunt reminded him of Kyle Orton when he was on Smith’s team in Chicago.

One of the things Smith thought really stood out about Lunt is his ability to adjust, something Lunt has had to do.

Lunt has played for two different schools, four different head coaches and five different offensive coordinators during his collegiate career.

This offseason may have brought the biggest changes for the senior since he transferred to Illinois from Oklahoma State in 2013. Some changes are welcomed like two new coaches in Smith and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee. But others are not: Lunt lost his top weapon from 2015 in Geronimo Allison to the draft and would be No. 1 receiver Mike Dudek tore his ACL for the second-straight season.

Lunt thinks that all the adjustments will help him a lot at the next level. The NFL doesn’t have much of a learning curve and players have to learn quick — something Lunt has plenty of experience with.

Through all of the change in his college career, one thing that has stayed consistent for Lunt in his time in orange and blue are NFL dreams, and what he believes needs to be done to reach them.

“I think we got to win games,” Lunt said. “I think that is the biggest thing. You have to win games as a quarterback.”

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