Jesus is the quarterback of Carson Wentz's level-headed, NFL-bound life
BISMARCK—The rear window decals that once adorned his silver Chevrolet pickup are probably all you need to know about the inner circle of Carson Wentz. A North Dakota State logo sat on the lower left corner and a depiction of a duck was on the lower right.
In the middle, and significantly larger than the other two decals, was a cross.
The schedule since he led the Bison football team to a fifth straight FCS national championship on Jan. 9 has been nothing short of CEO-hectic for the star quarterback, who has flown across the country more than once and has talked with more NFL coaches and administrators than he could probably count. They've dissected practically every year of his life and looked under every rock of his background, leaving nothing to chance.
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He's faced more questions than a congressional hearing.
His name is now second nature to millions of football fans, and he's gone from being able to wander a sporting goods store unabated to being recognized through a door window in some obscure hotel in Los Angeles. He's on a first-name basis with the state of North Dakota. Through it all, three things have remained a constant and he saw them in his rearview mirror in college every time he got in his pickup:
Quarterback is a complex position. The man at center stage leads a rather simplistic life.
"Faith has always been No. 1 in my life," Wentz said. "I think my faith throughout college made me patient as I waited my turn. It got me through my injury without a doubt. And throughout this process, it helped me to not let this thing blow up and get caught up in it all."
It's going to blow up in full force Thursday night, April 28, when Wentz is expected to be one of the first two players taken in the NFL Draft in Chicago. If it's not to the Los Angeles Rams with the first pick, then the Philadelphia Eagles are expected to take him with the second. Both teams have made it known they want a quarterback.
Perhaps a major reason how he got there: a spiritual enlightenment his freshman year at NDSU when a kid from Bismarck took his faith to another level thanks to some Bison football players.
"You raise the young man to go to church, but a little light came on his freshman year," said Doug Wentz, his father. "He tackles that just like he does buying a hunting dog. He learns and he digs."
It's just the way it's always been with the family. Connor Wentz, Carson's cousin and Bison junior tight end, said ever since he can remember it was faith first and family second.
"It will keep him level-headed," Connor said. "I think it will keep him grounded and down-to-earth, whereas a lot of those guys once they go pro they go crazy. His faith will keep him down-to-earth."
Keeping it simple
That's the sentiment in Bismarck, where Doug Wentz can hardly go anywhere without somebody asking about Carson, but never in an obtrusive manner. It's still Carson's home, where at Bismarck Century High School you're more apt to get a story about how he played on a state basketball championship team his senior year than anything football-related.
The same qualities head Bison coach Chris Klieman saw at NDSU are the same things head football coach Ron Wingenbach and head basketball coach Darin Mattern saw at Century. Smart. Tough.
Nobody expects those things to change in the NFL.
"He enjoys the simple things in life," Wingenbach said. "I think he holds true the things in his heart he deems important. I have a hunch we're not going to see a change in him."
And that includes an athlete who stands to sign his first contract in the neighborhood of $20 million, if previous contracts of high-round draft picks are any indication. Doug Wentz, however, calls his son a "conservative young man" and doesn't foresee the monetary end of the NFL business dominating his son's life.
"One of the funniest things was he was talking to his financial guy about the risk of the dollar," Doug said. "He asked. 'Why would you put any money anywhere where it could potentially be less tomorrow?' "
One day at practice
Tomorrow provides a promising future.
Yesterday, specifically his freshman year at NDSU, is where he may have started to establish a foundation to the next level. It's not as if Wentz carried a Bible and a playbook when he first arrived to Bison football fall camp, although it didn't take long before his spiritual path took a different direction.
He remembers the day, almost to the minute, when then-senior quarterback Dante Perez struck up a conversation while both were stretching before practice.
"My head was spinning, I had just learned new language in install meetings and Dante says, 'Hey, ever read the Bible?' " Wentz said. "I'm like, 'We're at football practice, not right now.' Then we started talking, ended up meeting and he kind of mentored me in my faith for about a year. Dante was huge, I owe him a lot."
The two would spend the lunch hour in fall camp talking about religion. And they've kept in touch since. Now looking back, Perez said he didn't think Wentz at the time had an NFL look to him by any means.
"But where I liked this kid, where I thought he was going to be special, was when you looked deeper into him than just football," Perez said. "I saw a genuine heart as a person. His character, that's what stood out to me. He obviously had the physical talent with his height and stature, but for me, I think that hunger to learn more and want more from his faith is what stood out to me."
Perez came to NDSU along with receiver Titus Mack from California. Mack came back into Wentz's life in the months after the national title win over Jacksonville State (Ala.) in January. While his Bison teammates took the team charter back to Fargo, Wentz left Dallas International Airport that Saturday evening for a different destination: Irvine, Calif.
He had yet to officially sign with Rep 1 Sports in Irvine, although that was a formality. It's a sports agency that specializes in quarterbacks while also keeping both eyes on the fragility of professional athletes.
"Carson is very focused, very professional," said Mack, who worked out with Wentz in Irvine. "He's business-savvy. He's physically and mentally ready for the next level."
In Mack, Wentz reunited with somebody he could trust.
"I personally remind him, 'Listen, don't get caught up in all the hype' and he knows this," Mack said.
No 'mud' to find
Hardly a week has gone by in Bismarck in the last few months when somebody from outside of North Dakota hasn't flown in to look into this FCS quarterback who hardly anybody in the NFL circles knew at this time a year ago. Wingenbach has talked to about 10 NFL teams and several national media outlets who were doing background work on Wentz.
A couple of NFL teams phoned Mattern, and he's had a Yahoo Sports reporter in his office at Century. A writer from the Los Angeles Times was in Bismarck this week, and it won't be long before the Philadelphia media market saturates the city. Zach Wentz, Carson's older brother who is a teacher at Legacy High School in Bismarck, has heard from pretty much the same people.
"It's funny, it seems like no matter who, they're all trying to find mud on Carson," Mattern said. "My answer to that is consistent. You're going to be looking for a long time, because I don't think there's anything out there. Carson has always been able to keep an even keel. I'm so proud of how the kid has been able to stay humble. He hasn't changed his humanistic values."
Doug Wentz said he's not surprised, considering the national scrutiny that his son has faced the last three months and will in the future.
As a reminder of staying the course, Wentz has "AO1" tattooed on the underside of his right wrist, which stands for "Audience Of One" in reference to playing for his Lord. Ironically, he had it done a couple of weeks before he broke his wrist in October against the University of South Dakota.
"It was kind of a motto I picked up early in my career, and I finally put it on my body just to live the Lord as my audience," Wentz said, "whether it was playing football, going to school or whatever I'm doing in my life."
Thursday, he'll be doing what nobody ever thought possible of a football player from North Dakota: going on stage as an early-round draft pick and standing next to the NFL commissioner before a worldwide TV audience.
As of late last week, he still couldn't predict how it will feel.
"It's kind of a dream come true, but at the same time it's just the beginning," Wentz said. "It's not where you start, but where you end your career. It's going to be an exciting time, not just for me but for the entire state."