CHAMPAIGN – Among the few things that he’s trying to get settled as he rebuilds Illini football is the man who will take the snaps under center.
It’s been a revolving door for the better part of Lovie Smith’s first two seasons in Champaign with the last consistent starter being Wes Lunt early in the 2016 season.
Now entering his third season, Smith believes he’s got his guy to start things out, and he wasn’t even with the program last season.
AJ Bush, who has joined the program as a graduate transfer, will be the starting quarterback for the Illini as they open the season Saturday against Kent State. He beat out Chicago Heights native Cam Thomas, who saw a significant amount of playing time at the position in his true freshman season.
“(We are) excited about what AJ has done. He started practicing with our football team in training camp, pulled into a leadership role right away,” said Smith on Monday of his decision to start Bush. “Based on what he’s done on and off the field, classroom, poise, being vocal, and then making plays as much as anything.”
This is the latest stop for Bush is part of a whirlwind college football career that began at Nebraska in 2014 with a redshirt season and then true freshman campaign in Lincoln. He left there and continued to Iowa Western Community College in 2016. Then came a season at Virginia Tech where he appeared in five games, completing 7-of-11 passes for 99 yards and touchdown while rushing for 129 yards in 19 attempts.
He arrived in Champaign for the start of camp on August 3rd and was able to make a quick impression on Smith and the rest of the coaching staff to earn the nod for week one.
“When you meet him for the first time, you buy into him. You can’t wait to make sure that that’s exactly what you’re going to see on the field, off the field, any time,” said Smith of Bush. “That’s what you want from your quarterback and for young players for them to look up to someone, if they’re doing what he’s doing we’re going to be in pretty good shape.
“From day one we liked things he did and it just kind of grew throughout.”
Perhaps it will continue that way and perhaps keep quiet anymore quarterback questions in Champaign in 2018.