Oh to be a fly on the wall when Wes Lunt and his parents sit down and review his college football career.
They’ve done it many times and those thoughts will be front and center Saturday when Lunt trots onto the Memorial Stadium field to greet mom and dad with a hug, a ritual that will celebrate Senior Day, his final home game.
After missing nearly five games with a back injury, Lunt is healthy again and will take the field one more time as the University of Illinois’ starting quarterback.
Lunt is surely in the running to have cobbled together one of the most bizarre, frantic, snake-bit careers one could imagine. In fact, no one could have guessed his career would could go spinning off on the tangents that have made it hard to keep a smile on his face.
Lunt has played at two schools (Oklahoma State and Illinois), for four head coaches (Mike Gundy, Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit and Lovie Smith) and seven offensive coordinators (too many to recount). He’s had injuries every season and just when it looks as though there’s a glimmer of hope, something happens to derail the excitement.
If he could have a winning performance Saturday against Iowa, Lunt probably would not know how to react.
“There’s been a lot of adversity, I will tell you that,” he said Monday, able to muster a slight smile. “There are things I pray about and speak to my family about and they kind of make you wonder sometimes. But God has a plan and it has taught me a lot going forward in life.”
If Lunt regrets his decision to leave Oklahoma State after his freshman season, he’s never said so.
If he regrets hooking his career onto the leadership of Beckman at Illinois, he’s never said so. At least not publicly.
If he feels unfairly caught up in the scandals that ended the Illini careers of Beckman and AD Mike Thomas, he’s never complained about that, either.
He seemed to have a very healthy working relationship with former offensive coordinator and interim head coach Cubit, but Cubit’s stay was shortened when new AD Josh Whitman decided to swing for the fences and bring in Smith.
The constant turmoil has no doubt jostled many careers at Illinois and Lunt has plenty of sympathetic shoulders to cry on.
But whenever he’s asked to stand up and try again, he does. And he will again Saturday as redshirt freshman Jeff George Jr. moves down the depth chart after throwing four first-half interceptions at Wisconsin.
Lunt did little in the second half at Wisconsin to generate excitement. Pressed to describe Lunt’s return to the lineup, Smith said Monday, “Wes hadn’t played in a while. That was his first time. We need to play better this week. You have to have your first time back and he got that out of the way.”
It felt like faint praise.
Somehow, Lunt keeps a positive outlook and said he’ll have that going for him Saturday.
“My parents and I joke and talk about all the ups and downs,” he said. “But we talk about the blessing. At the end of the day, playing Division I football in front of 60,000 or 70,000 people … how many people get to do that? It’s a blessing to be able to do it.”
Lunt wasn’t sure he’d play again this season after being helped off the field in the first half of the Purdue game on Oct. 8. “I was worried about it initially,” he said. “But when the MRI came back, I kind of knew I’d play again.”
He said he only had about 10 reps last week during practice but when George ran into a nightmare of a first half, he was called from the bullpen.
“I was just excited to get back out there and play again,” he said.
Lunt is working on his master’s degree in sports management and has said he’d one day like to be an athletics director. “I think so,” he said, pondering all he’s seen. “We’ll see.”
Ironically, Lunt first visited Memorial Stadium as a high school junior. It was where he led Rochester High School to the state championship, passing for 590 yards and four TDs.
A 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a big arm, his future seemed so bright.
He’s thrown 34 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions at Illinois. But the winning plays, and the wins he dreamed would come, just haven’t happened.
“This is an awesome stadium,” he said, looking out on the artificial turf. “A lot of tradition here.”
A lot of odd circumstances, too, which haven’t been particularly kind to Wes Lunt.