The book of Carson
Former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz has a national championship ring for every finger on his left hand.
For the past few months, he’s been a focal point of ESPN.
In two days, he’ll be the face of an NFL organization.
Wentz’s last five years have been unbelievable, and his last few months unprecedented.
But prior to the fame, Wentz roamed the streets of Bismarck, donning the blue and red of Century High.
Just another North Dakota kid.
High school career
Wentz wasn’t the Patriots’ every-day starter until senior year.
As a freshman and sophomore, he stood 5-foot-9 and weighed 140 pounds. Those years, he played quarterback for Century’s freshman and sophomore teams.
Entering his junior campaign, Wentz was named the Patriots’ varsity starter.
But there was a problem.
Wentz injured his wrist in preseason training, and was forced from the quarterback position.
But not the football field entirely.
Sporting a cast, Wentz still suited up and played wide receiver as an 11th-grader.
“You could tell he was very athletic,” Century football coach Ron Wingenbach said. “He caught the ball with one and half hands just as well, if not better, than most with two.”
That athleticism was amplified the summer before his senior year, as Wentz finally hit his growth spurt. Between the end of junior year and the beginning of his senior campaign, Wentz grew into a sturdy 6-6, 220-pound frame.
In his new body, Wentz directed the Patriots to a 8-2 record and a Class AAA semifinal appearance.
Wingenbach remembers that season fondly. One game – and in particular, one play – stood out above the rest.
Century hosted Minot that year, defeating the Magicians 40-14 in a game Wingenbach remembers vividly.
“One of the big plays of the game was the play right before half,” he said. “We had the ball right around midfield and time was running out, and we decided to take one shot at the end zone. Carson threw a deep pass to the end zone to my son, and we went up quite substantially there, and Minot came back in the second half but we had a big enough cushion.”
Despite his limited experience base – just one full season as a high school starter – Wentz had options regarding the future of his football career.
South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Central Michigan, the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State were actively recruiting Century’s valedictorian.
Even with an FBS on the offer on the table, Wentz elected to stay in state and play for the Bison.
And once again, he had to be patient for his turn.
Wentz redshirted his freshman season at NDSU, learning the speed and intricacies of college football from then-starter Brock Jensen. From the sidelines, he watched the Bison win the first of five national championships.
“He made the most of his opportunities,” NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. “What I try and tell the younger guys, especially the guys that haven’t played a lot, is to stay here and learn and love the program, and know that when they have their opportunity they’d make the most of it. He played at a high level for the two seasons that he played, and now he will be one of the top picks of the draft.”
In Wentz’s inaugural game as ‘the guy’ under center, he was saddled with a tall task. A seemingly insurmountable one, as the Bison squarerd off at the reigning Big 12 champs: Kansas State.
At that point, Wingenbach knew his former skipper had a bright future in football.
“His junior year when they went down and beat K-State, and a lot of people here at the school and around Bismarck and the state thought this kid might be pretty special,” Wingenbach said. “Flip to the next year and the way he played against Iowa State. When I saw him play at that level against that level of competition, you knew there was maybe a chance that this kid could be special.”
But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for Wentz.
During his final season in Fargo, Wentz suffered a wrist injury that shelfed him for 12 weeks.
He didn’t let that affect his mindset, or the team goal.
“He’s a class act,” said Micah Holmen, former Minot High football player, and Wentz’s high school opponent. “He’s won of the best guys I’ve played the game against. When he got hurt with the wrist injury he’s already in the film room with (redshirt freshman Easton) Stick. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Wentz finally got healthy, returning in time to lead NDSU to its fifth consecutive FCS title.
North Dakota State gave Wentz an opportunity to showcase his skills for two seasons, win national championships and write his way into North Dakota lore. Since leaving Fargo, Wentz and the ensuing media frenzy surrounding him has bolstered NDSU’s brand nationwide.
“What he’s done I think for – not only our program, but for our university – it’s an open checkbook,” Klieman said. “Talking to people wearing North Dakota State stuff outside of the state, ‘Hey that’s the five-time national champs and that’s where Carson Wentz is from.’ They go hand in hand, and I think its been remarkable for us to see how the platform he’s on raised the awareness of NDSU, not only a regional basis, but on a national basis.”
Wentz is about to turn the page on an exciting chapter in his life. That chapter will surely be a historic one for North Dakota.
On Thursday, Wentz promises to be the highest-drafted player in state history.
That same night, Century High will host ESPN in its gymnasium for a live broadcast.
“It will be a big party in honor of Carson and what he’s accomplished,” Wingenbach said. “I can’t think anyone who can’t feel good for the guy. You watch him on social media and ESPN and the way he handles and presents himself and the things he says, not only about Century and Bismarck, but the state of North Dakota. It speaks volumes of kind of upper midwest demeanor that we have.”
Drive down almost any street in Minot. You’ll likely notice at least a few green and yellow Bison flags flying.
Out in public? You’ve surely spotted someone wearing NDSU gear.
Wentz’s imminent fame has galvanized Bismarck and Fargo.
But more than that, it’s made the entire state of North Dakota proud.
“It’s kind of a once-in a lifetime deal, and we are enjoying it,” Wingenbach said.
John Denega covers Minot High athletics, Minot State softball and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @JohnDenega_MDN.