From Frisco to Fargo, Wentz takes reins at NDSU
Fargo - It was a joyful airplane ride from Frisco, Texas, to Fargo in January with North Dakota State football players celebrating and reliving an FCS national title victory. At least one player, however, was looking ahead.
Quarterback Carson Wentz unofficially took control as the starting quarterback the minute Brock Jensen took off his uniform at Toyota Stadium for the last time.
“I remember I was already thinking about Iowa State,” Wentz said, “so it’s been a long time coming for me. Three years sitting behind Brock, I learned a lot, got to experience a lot and now it’s my turn.”
Now a junior, it’s his turn to lead the Bison offense heading into the season opener Aug. 30 at ISU. After four years of Jensen as the starter, it’s Wentz’s turn to run the West Coast offense.
“I’m not going to waste any time, I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Wentz won the job in spring football, but it was probably more of a formality than anything else.
He earned the spot as Jensen’s backup the past two years after beating out Esley Thorton in a much-publicized depth-chart battle. Thorton is now a starting outside linebacker.
Wentz has the physical size at 6-foot-6 and 231 pounds. He has the intelligence with a 4.0 GPA. He has a strong arm with a quick release. Head coach Chris Klieman said about the only thing he’s lacking is repetitions under center. He was 22 of 30 passing last year for 209 yards and one touchdown, with almost all attempts coming in a mop-up role late in games of a 15-0 season.
His first three days of fall practice have gone very well, Klieman said – both on and off the field. With the quarterback position, Wentz said, comes other responsibilities.
“My leadership role was kind of restricted before, but now I can be more vocal and more active,” he said. “Those have come to the forefront quite a bit I think. If you ask a lot of the guys, I think they would say the same thing.”
Klieman said the offense won’t change much from last year despite having a new offensive coordinator in Tim Polasek and a new quarterbacks coach in Randy Hedberg. NDSU is still expected to be a power-based running team with a controlled passing attack.
Wentz said he expects to have full use of the playbook despite never starting a game. He said both Polasek and Hedberg have voiced their confidence in his ability to get the offense in the right sets.
One advantage he’s had in practice is operating against a veteran defense, which returns seven of the top nine tacklers from a year ago. That includes three of the four secondary positions.
“It’s hard to say that he’s a first-time starter,” said senior safety Colten Heagle. “I think he’s doing a real good job leading that group and continuing make some good throws out there. We’ve been showing him different looks to try and confuse him, but he does a good job picking those up, and I think that is the biggest thing that will help him.”
Also expected to help him is his ability to run. Like Jensen, he’s expected to be part of the run game when needed despite looking more like the prototype pocket passer.
“I’d like to think I can (run) a little bit,” he said. “I don’t like to sit there and think I’m a big pocket passer, can’t-move, non-athlete type. I like to throw first, but if the play breaks down, I feel confident I can escape and make some things happen with my legs.”
He might be the tallest quarterback in Bison history. The advantage, he said, is being able to look over the linemen at the line of scrimmage and see the field. He also pointed out that his idol is 5-foot-11 quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.
“There are some advantages, but once you’re out there, a lot of it goes out the window,” Wentz said. “But it does help when there’s pressure in your lap.”
It’s pressure that Wentz has been looking forward to since the plane ride back from Frisco.
This is his team now.
“He’s been really confident,” said senior center Jesse Hinz. “He’s been around for a long time and he knows what he’s doing. Just his presence on the field – you can feel the leadership.”