Stick grown into the leader as Bison quarterback

FARGO — He looks and acts the part.

This past Tuesday, Aug. 29, fourth-year North Dakota State student Easton Stick grabbed a handful of microphones that were hooked up to video cameras and talked about the upcoming football game with Mississippi Valley State.

He joked with the nine reporters surrounding him about the name of his street shoes. He answered every question with precision because he’s done this media thing many times already. He’s the quarterback. The leader.

After a year of following Carson, he’s following nobody now.

Carson Wentz played two years ago and he’s an established NFL quarterback. Perhaps naturally there’s always a year of transition between the former star and the current quarterback but that time has passed.

This is Easton’s team now.

“I feel like I’ve been around,” Stick said. “This isn’t new to me. I’m comfortable being here at the facility, on campus and everything that comes with that.”

There was a time when it was questionable if he was even going to make it to the NDSU campus. As a senior at Omaha Creighton Prep High School, he had already given the Bison a verbal commitment when Craig Bohl resigned as the head coach to take the same job at the University of Wyoming.

What ensued was a period of uncertainty with Stick and his parents, Mike and Shelly.

“I remember when the news broke that coach Bohl was leaving, everything was up in the air,” Easton said. “You didn’t know if you had a scholarship, who the next coach is going to be, who will be your position coach — all that stuff.”

The first step in easing his mind was when assistant Chris Klieman was elevated to head coach effective at the end of the season. The Bison were currently in a Division I FCS playoff run and Bohl said he was going to coach the team until the end of the season, which in this case came in early January at the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.

Klieman and one of the assistants who wasn’t going to follow Bohl to Wyoming, Conor Riley, didn’t wait until after the season to continue courting the Stick family. On Dec. 20, 2013, a Friday night, NDSU defeated the University of New Hampshire 52-14 in the FCS semifinals at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

Early the next morning, Klieman and Riley went to the Jet Center private aviation center on the north side of Hector International Airport, boarded a single-engine airplane and flew to Omaha to meet with Stick and high school teammate RJ Urzendowski. The fact the Bison got the Friday night playoff game on ESPN2 was perfect timing so Klieman and Riley could use Saturday to solidify verbal commitments.

“There was a little uncertainty with Easton and his parents,” said Riley, himself a Creighton Prep graduate who recruits the state of Nebraska. “I know one of Easton’s parents’ biggest concerns was stability within the coaching staff. Clearly he was a priority of ours and the big thing for us was going down and easing his mind of the consistency of what NDSU is about.”

Riley said NDSU is always on guard about other schools going after players who have verbally committed to the Bison. With the coaching change, paranoia may have taken another step up.

Stick said he sensed other schools, most in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, coming after him harder after the Bohl announcement. Creighton Prep had other college prospects like Urzendowski, now a senior at NDSU, so college coaches were going in and out of the high school anyway. But “I had a couple of more meetings,” Stick said.

He already had plenty of scholarship offers, including FBS programs Rutgers and Akron. Klieman and Riley arrived at the Stick house later Saturday morning and Stick recalls the coaches saying nothing was going to change with the Bison in terms of offensive philosophy.

“It was going to be the same thing, just a new person in front of the room,” Stick said. “It was comforting and it helped settle the noise a little bit.”

Said Klieman: “Then he committed to us again, so to speak.”

There was still unfinished business. For NDSU, it defeated Towson 35-7 in the FCS title game. For Stick, he still had yet to make his official campus visit and had yet to meet the new offensive coordinator in Tim Polasek and the new quarterbacks coach in Randy Hedberg.

Those meetings came in January at the NDSU football complex.

“At that point, I knew I was in the boat for sure,” Stick said.

It became official on national signing day in early February. It ended an almost two-month frenzy starting with the Bohl announcement with fans asking the following question: Is Easton in or out? Creighton Prep head coach Chris Nizzi was on local radio shows sporadically answering the same question.

This week, about the only question for Stick is the emphasis on improving the passing game in the offseason. Hedberg said a lot of work has been devoted to Stick getting the ball to his receivers quicker and making quicker and more decisive decisions at the line of scrimmage.

“It was just something we needed to be better at,” Hedberg said. “Making a decision quicker.”

A quick decision wasn’t in the cards in December and January of 2013. The Bison had to work and sweat that one out.

“He was the main guy, absolutely,” Klieman said. “It was a battle.”