<
>

Once-frustrated QB Wes Lunt 'all behind' Illinois' new staff

Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt can admit now that he felt confused and frustrated just one month ago.

The fifth-year senior was looking forward to reuniting with head coach Bill Cubit for his final season -- he said in January he was "real glad" he didn't have to learn a new offense -- but then, on March 5, Illinois' new athletic director, Josh Whitman, suddenly fired Cubit. Two days later, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith was hired to replace him and the Illini's spread offense.

That wasn't what Lunt expected. That's not what he anticipated. And it wasn't easy to accept at first.

"It was just really frustrating because you build relationships, and both the Cubits, Ryan and Bill, have been really good to me," Lunt told ESPN.com. "I planned on going out with them, so that's probably why it was so frustrating because it was change. But Coach Lovie Smith and Josh Whitman had a plan they executed really fast, which definitely eased a lot of that frustration.

"It was an up-and-down roller-coaster ride, but now we're on an even, flat line and ready to go. It's been as smooth a transition as it can be in the short amount of time it's been."

The adjustments for this team have been ongoing, as spring practice only kicked off on Friday. Gone is Illinois' no-huddle spread offense. In its place? A huddle-up pro-style offense. Lunt essentially has had two weeks to transition to a completely new system, and there have been plenty of bumps along the way.

Illinois initially scheduled weekday practices at 6 a.m. but quickly changed that Monday to 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to make room for more meetings so the team is better prepared on the field. Lunt also has tried cramming by sketching plays from memory on his dry-erase board at home and by watching extra clips from the offensive coordinator's past stops.

"It's just been difficult," Lunt said. "If they would've gotten here in January when we got back to school, it wouldn't be as bad -- we'd have 6-7 weeks to learn the offense -- but we've only really had two weeks to learn it. That's been the struggle of it."

But Lunt is confident that will all become easier with time. Sure, there's different terminology and other tweaked nuances, but Lunt's goals still haven't changed. He's still shooting for a bowl game, he still wants to compete for a Big Ten championship -- and he still wants to leave his mark on Illinois.

In fact, that last detail is what endeared him to new offensive coordinator Garrick McGee. The former Louisville assistant called Lunt shortly after his hiring with a message: We want to send you out the right way.

"He was very open on just about everything that could be this year," Lunt said. "That's what really put me at ease. That's what got me excited for spring ball and this season."

Illinois still is focusing on the basics at practice -- such as being in a huddle for the first time -- but there is some cause for excitement. Both Justin Hardee and Mike Dudek, arguably the Big Ten's best wideout, returned this spring after missing last season with injuries. And Lunt knows the new staff brings a lot more stability moving forward.

He's reminded of that every so often during his internship at the ticket office this semester. A few fans purchasing tickets from a "Wes" -- and putting two and two together -- have expressed just how happy they are Smith signed a six-year contract.

And, even with a steep learning curve and plenty of questions in the beginning, so is Lunt.

"I was confused three weeks ago when the announcement happened," he said. "Now I see the vision, and I'm all behind the vision of what we want to do in this program. We're going in the right direction with this staff."