BISMARCK-This time last year, Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles were flying under the NFL radar.
One year later, the script has been flipped.
An MVP-caliber season by Wentz and a Super Bowl victory by the Eagles has Philly pegged as the team to beat in 2018 by many pundits with training camp just a few weeks away.
For Wentz, who made an appearance in Bismarck on Monday, July 2, at Sanford Power, it's a role he is familiar with and embraces going back to his college days at NDSU for the FCS powerhouse Bison.
"Last year we were kinda the underdogs, that was the theme of our season. But obviously after winning the Super Bowl, you go from being the hunter, to the hunted," the Century High School graduate said. "I just experienced that in college year after year after year after year where everybody was always coming for us."
Early indications are the Eagles are ready to defend their title.
"I haven't seen anything alarming from the guys," Went said. "Everybody came back to OTAs ready to work and to try to do it again."
One of the few questions facing the Eagles is the status of Wentz. The team's starting quarterback tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee on Dec. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz missed the Eagles' postseason run, but has made steady progress after surgery. His targeted return date remains Week 1 and the Thursday night season opener against Atlanta on Sept. 6.
"It's hard to say percentage-wise. If I knew I'd be telling everybody," Wentz said. "If it's not Week 1 then hopefully it'll be somewhere close to that barring anything unforeseen.
"The last hurdle obviously is going to be contact and making sure the doctors are comfortable with that. But right now, the knee's coming right along. There have been no setbacks. I'm chomping at the bit, but I need to be patient and listen to what the doctors say."
Before the injury, Wentz was viewed as an MVP front-runner. In 13-plus games, he piled up 3,397 yards passing, including a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 33-7. He also had run for nearly 300 yards.
His NFL brethren certainly have taken notice. Wentz was voted as the third-best player of the 2017 season, trailing only New England quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown.
"That was pretty cool because it was voted on by your peers," Wentz said. "Obviously it's a subjective list and a lot of things factor into it. It's nice and everything but we still got a long way to go."
Due to extensive rehab on his knee, Wentz has not been able to get back to Bismarck as much as he would have liked this offseason. However, it has not prevented him from meeting with young people, like he did on Monday, or being active with his successful charity, the AO1 Foundation.
"Events like this are just cool. It's humbling and I have to pinch myself knowing that it wasn't that long ago I was that kid going to Centennial (elementary) and Horizon (middle school)," he said. "Literally, just a few years ago that was me growing up right down the street.
"It's always fun to come back home."
It's been a dizzying couple of years for Wentz, who in the span of less than three years went from backup quarterback for the Bison, to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft to finishing No. 3 in NFL MVP voting just a few months ago.
"It's definitely been a whirlwind even going back to waiting three years, playing as a junior and getting hurt there, then obviously the draft. It's been pretty wild," he said. "I haven't had much time to reflect on it, maybe other than doing interviews like this, but I definitely recognize all the blessings God has given me."