When the 100th season of the National Football League kicks off tonight with Green Bay playing at Chicago, RJ Urzendowski will be keeping an eye on No. 10 for the Packers. “That’s my college roommate,” he will be able to tell his friends about Packers’ wide receiver Darrius Shepherd.
When the NFL season resumes on Sunday, Urzendowski will be watching for No. 2 of the San Diego Chargers. “That’s my college roommate,” he will be able tell his friends about Chargers’ backup quarterback Easton Stick.
What are the odds that one guy like Urzendowski has two college roommates from North Dakota State playing in the NFL? Not very good according to studies that have shown less than 2 percent of all college football players reach the NFL and that only 300 rookies make an NFL team.
Throw in the fact that Shepherd and Stick come from an FCS school and not from a major college program, it almost seems next to impossible that Urzendowski is able boast about two college roommates wearing an NFL uniform.
“It’s pretty crazy when you think about it but it’s pretty cool,” said Urzendowski.
Stick, a fifth-round draft pick, and Shepherd, who was invited to the Packers’ tryout camp, have basically beaten the odds. But that doesn’t come as a surprise to Urzendowski, who was part of the 2014 Bison recruiting class with Stick and Shepherd.
“Obviously, the NFL has a huge interview process and I knew Easton would blow all those teams away with everything he knows about football,” Urzendowski said. “And Darrius is a gamer. If you just give him a shot and you throw him out there and get him to just play football, you will understand how good of a football player he really is.”
Urzendowski was a pretty good football player himself, ranked fifth at NDSU in career receiving yards. Urzendowski, now a project engineer for a commercial construction company in Colorado Springs, Colo., played his freshman season while Stick and Shepherd redshirted.
Last season, when Stick and Shepherd helped guide NDSU to its seventh FCS championship in eight years, Urzendowski was a student assistant coach on the Bison sideline. He saw Stick fire scoring strikes of 23 yards and 78 yards to Shepherd in a 38-24 title win over Eastern Washington.
This fall, he’s been watching Stick and Shepherd on television make enough of an impression in preseason games to make the final cut.
“I texted Easton right away when I heard he made the cut,” Urzendowski said.
Urzendowski and Stick have known each other since they were 7 years old — playing on a traveling baseball team that won some state championships and playing on traveling basketball team that won its share of tournaments. They didn’t start playing football together until their freshman year at Creighton Prep High School in Omaha.
“We both played quarterback growing up but he was a lot better at that position than I was,” Urzendowski said. “You could tell his freshman year he was going to be the next big thing at Creighton Prep.”
Eventually, he was the next big thing at NDSU. But he paid his dues redshirting his freshman year and being a backup to Carson Wentz for eight games. Stick went on to lead NDSU to the FCS title game and Wentz went on to a career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Urzendowski also caught his fair share of passes from Wentz, most notably his freshman year in 2014 hauling in a game-winning catch against South Dakota State in the playoffs and two big catches in a game-winning drive in the FCS come-from-behind title win against Illinois State.
“It’s pretty crazy how similar Carson and Easton are from the standpoint of their understanding of the game,” Urzendowski said. “All that behind-the-scenes stuff, they really understand the game. Easton learned a lot from Carson.”
And Shepherd and Urzendowski learned a lot from each other. When Urzendowski graduated, Shepherd became Stick’s go-to guy. That, too, did not surprise Urzendowski.
“When we first met at NDSU, the first thing you noticed was that he was very athletic and very quick,” Urzendowski said. “He is a lot quicker than I ever was. But throughout his career, he just got better and better. He improved every single day. Some college football players will peak out, but not Darrius. He’s still getting better.”
Better to the point that he may be catching a few passes from future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers this season. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Stick will be the starting scout team quarterback who, according to head coach Anthony Lynn, has a high ceiling.
“We’re excited,” Lynn said in a press release. “I look forward to seeing his development over the next couple of years.”
So does Urzendowski - who now has more than just his favorite team, the Carolina Panthers, to cheer for on Sundays this fall.
“There is definitely a lot more rooting interest now,” he said.