FARGO — Taryn Christion left South Dakota State after last season as the program’s all-time leading passer. Easton Stick left North Dakota State as the all-time wins leader in FCS history as a quarterback.
Both got serious NFL looks with Stick remaining with the Los Angeles Chargers. When it comes to heavyweights under center at their respective colleges, both could land a knockout punch on a Saturday basis.
One season later, it’s a new era of quarterbacks at NDSU and SDSU. When the Bison and Jackrabbits face off at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday afternoon, both teams will be led by redshirt freshmen — Trey Lance with the Bison and J’Bore Gibbs with the Jackrabbits.
There hasn’t been much of a dropoff, if any, with either team. Both teams offensively are essentially on the same pace they were last year.
“There are some young quarterbacks in the league that are very good players this year,” said NDSU associate head coach Randy Hedberg, who handles the Bison quarterbacks.
His guy is as good as any. Lance has completed 95 of 136 passes for a 70 percent accuracy clip with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. Certainly, this is as big of a game as any for Lance, although he said he’s treating it like any other week.
Still, it’s as close as he’ll get to playing near his hometown of Marshall, Minn., which is about 60 miles from Brookings. He’ll have more family and friends at a game than usual. Plus add ESPN “College GameDay” coming to SDSU and there will be no shortage of electricity.
“There’s a lot of hype around it, ‘GameDay’ and everything which is pretty cool but it’s outside stuff,” Lance said. “The schedule for us will be the same so we’ll be ready to go.”
Lance took NDSU over FBS interest like Minnesota and offers including Boise State. Gibbs received recruiting attention from the likes of Illinois, Kansas State and Nebraska before his senior year at Phillips High School in Chicago.
He was a highly successful prep player leading his team to state titles in 2015 and 2017. Phillips went 14-0 his senior year, when he threw for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 600.
Gibbs was offered by FBS Eastern Michigan, but the school pulled it for another quarterback recruit leaving SDSU as the front runner. It helped that former high school teammate Don Gardner was already on the Jackrabbits’ roster.
“That was a huge deal,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said of Gardner. “The hard thing was to convince him to leave Chicago and come out here.”
Once on campus, Gibbs was the heir apparent to Christion from the get-go, with Stiegelmeier saying he was in the conversation to be the top backup as a true freshman. Gibbs said he spent as much time as he could tapping into Christion’s mind, especially when Christion came off the field after a series.
“As soon as he came off, I would always ask him, ‘What did you see?’” Gibbs said. “I was new into the offense and he showed me a lot of different things like footwork. He helped me a lot for sure.”
Same with Lance when it came to Stick. At practice and in the film room, those two were inseparable with Lance asking more questions than he could ever remember.
“I don’t know where I would be without Easton,” Lance said. “I’ve said it many times, just the way he prepares, I think I would have no idea what to do.”
It was a subject that came up Tuesday morning between Lance and NDSU backup quarterback Noah Sanders.
“Easton could have easily been, ‘I’ll focus on my senior year,’” Lance said. “The amount of extra time he took with me in the film room or on the field, I owe almost everything to him.”
Hedberg sees a quarterback who handles pressure well, appears poised in the pocket when passing, poised in the huddle and a player who is mature at talking about the game on the sideline. It's a game, he said, that won't be too big for Lance's shoulders.
“I think he sees the game really well,” Hedberg said. “I think he’s progressed really well and I think he’s ready for this type of atmosphere. I think it’s going to be one he’s going to cherish.”
Stiegelmeier said the same about his quarterback, making note that his SDSU offensive assistants have done a good job of giving Gibbs plays he can handle. Asked about two redshirt freshmen at quarterback in a big game, Gibbs said “I think it shows a lot about who we are as individuals.”
“You have to be mentally strong and mentally into the program and invested from Day 1,” Gibbs said. “You have to have the same focus at a young age as far as being a freshman on the field.”