It should be a thrilling moment next week when a kid from North Dakota who didn’t play football at one of the big-shot,rule-breaking, big money college programs becomes the first pick in the NFL draft.
All Carson Wentz, a Bismarck, N.D., native, has done is lead North Dakota State University to multiple Football Championship Subdivision championships, the lower level of Division I play where scholarships for athletes are fewer. He red-shirted as a freshman and spent a couple of years on the bench.
In high school he was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds and no college recruiter from the football factories of the nation thought twice about him.
They’re thinking about him now. Last week, the Los Angeles Rams swung a big trade to put themselves in a position to draft Wentz if they want.
The Washington Post today reports that if you like kids who are encouraged to play different sports in high school rather than coddled by parents and experts into an elite focus on one sport to the exclusion of everything else, you’ll like Wentz.
[Former NFL quarterback Jeff] Christiansen argues with parents who want their son to focus on quarterbacking to the extent of quitting other sports. Playing basketball, Christiansen said, is the best thing an aspiring quarterback can do: It improves sudden movement, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.
As an unheralded high school player, Wentz never felt pressure to quit other sports to focus on football. Once he got to college as an overlooked recruit, no coaches had motive or desire to rush him on to the field. He worked hard, learned a pro-style offense and, when his time came, he revealed himself to be an unlikely NFL prospect. The process didn’t hurt him; it helped.
Bud Elliot, writing on SB Nation, doesn’t buy the Post’s assertion that Wentz proves the college quarterback development and recruiting system is broken.
I’d argue that he played basketball because it is an indoor sport and he lived where the average temperature in winter is in the teens.
Perhaps there is some evidence that quarterbacks who get private QB coaching or play 7-on-7 or participate in camps are more likely to “regress, stall or burn out.”
If Wentz had quarterback coaching in high school or had played in 7-on or camps, maybe he would have been better earlier and not had to redshirt at a place like North Dakota State.
Ouch. That’s got to sting, eh North Dakota?
As for Wentz and Fargo, both look better and better every time a big-city media outfit like ESPN tells his story.
Whatever franchise drafts him, Henley [his golden retriever] is coming with. She’ll be his only roommate for at least a year. He and Melissa [his girlfriend] have decided they won’t live together until they’re married. “That’s really important to both of us, and to both our families,” he says.
He doesn’t want to leave behind some of the values that shaped him, but he knows the world is going to change him in ways he can’t even comprehend yet. He understands there is much he’s naive about, but what matters is learning from his mistakes.
When he was training in Irvine, California, in the winter, Wentz sheepishly had to explain to Zarrabi [Nima Zarrabi of Rep1 Sports] one day that someone had broken into his rental car.
“I’ve learned,” he says, “that you can’t get away with leaving your wallet in the car like you can in North Dakota.”
Don’t ever forget the people in flyover country, kid.
Related: McFeely blog: Sorry Carson, Roger Maris is all-time top ND sports story (Fargo Forum)