In the first quarter of his third college game, Wes Lunt, then a true freshman starting at quarterback for Oklahoma State, took a hit and dislocated his left kneecap. It was the beginning of the end of his time in Stillwater.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Lunt — who sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Illinois — is set to retake the field after missing four of the Illini’s last five games due to injuries, first a sprained right knee and then a fractured left fibula.
Everyone who has seen Lunt throw a football knows he has a great arm. And some seriously rotten luck.
“My patience definitely has been tested,” he said following practice on Wednesday. “I’ve just been frustrated. You’re a football player. You want to play every snap.”
But that’s not all. Lunt has seen the sharks circling around coach Tim Beckman and his staff with the team in a 1-4 slide that has dropped it to 4-5. Not being able to do anything about it has been a load on Lunt’s shoulders.
“Because you know how fragile it is,” he said. “There are coaching changes all over.”
It’ll take victories in two of the remaining three games, beginning a week from Saturday at home against Iowa, for the Illini to become bowl-eligible. A bowl is the only goal left to chase at this point. Would that be enough to spare Beckman?
“Obviously, we all care about this staff and love this staff and want this staff to stay,” Lunt said. “And we think making a bowl is going to make that happen.
“We know there are critics out there saying this is the last year for the staff if we don’t produce. Speaking for myself, I’m going to do whatever I can to help them.”
It’s hard to say if the Illini are good enough, even under the best of circumstances, to win two out of three against Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern, but Lunt allows the offense — and the team — to put its best foot forward.
In each of the last three games, Illinois’ offense has been held below 300 yards. It was averaging well over 400 yards — with the 12th-ranked passing offense in the country — when Lunt went out with the injury to his left leg.
“I think we’re all excited that he’s back,” said offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
Lunt is determined to come through.
“If we play our ballgame and get the right bounces here and there,” he said, “anything’s possible.”