FARGO — North Dakota State quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg couldn’t help but think of the future after the Bison earned a third consecutive Division I FCS national championship last January in Frisco, Texas.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance was named the game’s most valuable player in a 28-20 victory against James Madison, capping a 16-0 season. The Lance era seemed to be just getting started.
“You finish playing in Frisco back in January and you’re excited because you just won a national championship. You think, ‘This might go on for another three years.’ Then all of sudden, it’s ended with Trey,” Hedberg said.
Instead of multiple years, Hedberg got to coach Lance for one more game after Lance recently declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Lance only played in one game during his sophomore season due the coronavirus pandemic, which shifted the Missouri Valley Football Conference games from the fall to the spring. Lance's final game with the Bison was a 39-28 victory against Central Arkansas on Oct. 3 at the Fargodome.
“I never thought it would ever happen at our level,” Hedberg said of an FCS quarterback declaring early. “I just never thought of it. … This is quite unique the way it’s going. He’s only really played one year of college football competitively. It’s kind of unheard of.”
Lance is in line to become the third consecutive Bison quarterback to get selected in the NFL Draft. His predecessor, Easton Stick, was a Los Angeles Chargers fifth-round selection in 2019. Prior to that, Carson Wentz was the No. 2 overall choice in the 2016 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Lance is projected to be a high first-round pick.
“I’m extremely fortunate, there’s no question about it,” said Hedberg, who has been the Bison quarterbacks coach since 2014. “It’s been a good ride with three great people.”
All three quarterbacks won at least one national championship with the Bison, while Lance is the only one to win the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS. Hedberg said one common thread between all three is their attention to detail in practice and the film room.
“These three guys go into watching that much video and they know what they’re looking for. They’re looking for specific things, specific tells of the defense,” Hedberg said. “Every day is a detailed day in what they do. … I think going from Carson to Easton, Easton to Trey it got elevated a little bit more in what they did.”
Here is a career statistical comparison of the three:
Wentz completed 64% (392 of 612) of his passes for 5,115 yards with 45 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,028 yards and 13 touchdowns. Wentz had a 20-3 record as a starter.
Stick completed 61% (598 of 980) of his passes for 8,693 yards with 88 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He rushed for 2,523 yards and 41 touchdowns. Stick was 49-3 as a starter, setting an FCS record for QB wins.
Lance completed 65% (208 of 318) of his passes for 2,947 yards with 30 touchdowns and one interception. He rushed for 1,325 yards and 18 touchdowns. Lance was 17-0 as a starter.
Wentz and Stick were both in the Bison program for five years, while Lance turned pro during his third year with NDSU, after one full season as a starter.
“I wish he was able to play this full sophomore season just to get more pictures of defenses, more looks, more throws against defensive football teams,” Hedberg said of Lance. “That would have been ideal for him.”
Hedberg said, however, the 20-year-old Lance has a strong football acumen.
“I think his knowledge of football is exceptional,” Hedberg said. “I think he’s only going to get better, but he knows football. I would describe him as a football junkie. He loves to be around it and he likes to talk football.”
Hedberg said Lance also played in an offensive system that has elements that should help in his transition to the NFL game.
“Two things that I think are really important in that regard is being under center and being in a huddle. Being in a huddle is really, really an important factor in the NFL and being able to verbalize plays in the huddle," Hedberg said. “A lot of these quarterbacks in college right now, they’re in no-huddle situations. They never verbalize a play and they have to do that in the NFL.”
Lance had a historic freshman season, completing 192 of 287 passes (67%) for 28 touchdowns and no interceptions in 16 games. He also rushed for 1,110 yard and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers translated into the NFL buzz during the offseason that culminated with Lance deciding to turn pro early.
“He didn’t throw a pick all year, I think that was one of the big things,” Hedberg said of Lance’s meteoric rise. “I think that tells you something right there that he’s making good decisions. … He’s only 20 years old. He’s a young 20. He’s got a lot of years ahead of him to get better.”