Stick continues to learn the QB trade from Wentz
FARGO — Every day Easton Stick shows up for work at the North Dakota State football complex, a part of Carson Wentz also comes with him. Give the Bison quarterback and his teammates credit for Stick’s 44-3 record as a starter, but also give an assist to Wentz.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has been a close mentor to Stick for five years now. The first two years came during Wentz’s junior and senior seasons at NDSU, when Wentz taught the young prodigy that there’s more to being a quarterback than knowing the playbook and taking the center snap.
It’s the other stuff that counts; the hours spent behind closed doors. Wentz taught Stick how to think like a quarterback.
“I think the biggest thing he learned from Carson is how to watch video, how to break defenses down and what they’re looking for,” said Bison assistant coach Randy Hedberg, who handles the quarterbacks. “How a linebacker might be playing in the ‘A’ gap, how they line up, how a safety lines up, how a corner lines up, where his eyes are — those sorts of things.”
It wouldn’t make for a good ESPN “30 for 30” feature. There’s not much in the line of compelling storytelling of Stick and Wentz sitting in a room for hours watching film. Wentz was the No. 2 overall draft choice in the 2016 NFL draft, but that didn’t mean he cut ties with Stick and NDSU.
The two still talk football. Just how much is between them, but probably more than anybody would think.
“He’s obviously pretty busy but yeah, absolutely,” Stick said.
Asked what Wentz taught him, Stick said, “A ton. And continues to.”
Stick couldn’t have hand-picked a better situation when he signed his letter of intent in the winter of 2014 out of Creighton Prep High School in Omaha, Neb. It wasn’t the smoothest of times at NDSU football with former head coach Craig Bohl on his way to Wyoming and defensive coordinator Chris Klieman named as the head coach.
Stick said his first reaction was one of being shocked. He wondered if his scholarship was going to be honored. A home visit from Klieman, however, settled everything.
“It was a piece of cake, a no-brainer to come to Fargo,” Stick said.
He spent his true freshman season learning the trade from quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg, Wentz and backup quarterback Cole Davis. The Bison took Stick on road trips so he could be around the quarterback braintrust as much as possible.
He took over for Wentz halfway through the 2015 season when Wentz broke a bone in his wrist. Stick went 8-0 as the starter.
Wentz came back for the FCS national title game against Jacksonville State (Ala.), but Stick has been in the lineup since. The Bison went 12-2 his sophomore year, 14-1 and a national title last season and are 10-0 heading into Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference regular season finale against Southern Illinois.
That’s 44 victories with Stick starting under center.
“I know one thing, the kid just wants to win,” Klieman said. “We talk about that all the time. I just so appreciate watching him prepare starting Monday and going all through the week.”
If the Bison win out, Stick will surpass former Bison standout Brock Jensen as the all-time FCS quarterback wins leader. Jensen won 48 games from 2010-13. Armanti Edwards won 43 at Appalachian State from 2006-09, J.R. Revere won 42 at Georgia Southern from 1998-01 and Eric Ward won 41 at Richmond from 2006-09.
Stick has completed 113 of 195 passes for 1,792 yards, 19 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Like Hedberg alluded to, those numbers won’t wow voters for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top offensive player in FCS. The voters also don’t see NDSU’s offense often going conservative in the second half of several games this season because of big leads. Stick has been pulled in half of his team’s games in favor of a backup quarterback.
By all accounts, Stick is oblivious to records and honors. He didn’t know he tied Wentz, Steve Walker and Tony Stauss for the single-game record for touchdown passes last week with five against Missouri State.
When he’s not working on his MBA this week, you could probably find him studying the Saluki defense. Just like Wentz is studying the defense of Philadelphia’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints, this week.
Wentz is known in the NFL as a quarterback with a strong arm and great mind. Hedberg said Stick is trying his best to stay pace mentally with Wentz.
“He’s not too far behind Carson if not right with him,” Hedberg said. “He’s extremely good friends with Carson and I think Carson challenges him when they visit and work out together and I think that is the biggest thing. He wants to get to that level and that’s important to him.”