McFeely: NDSU is, officially, a Quarterback U
FARGO -- Chris Klieman was named North Dakota State's head football coach Dec. 15, 2013, five days before the Bison were to play New Hampshire in a Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game at the Fargodome. The coach Klieman was going to replace, Craig Bohl, had taken the head job at Wyoming but was allowed to coach the Bison through the remainder of their season.
Klieman knew what his first order of business needed to be when it came to recruiting. Or perhaps it could be called re-recruiting.
"Conor and I jumped on a plane and flew down to Omaha to see Easton and RJ. First thing we did," Klieman said Saturday, April 27.
Conor would be Conor Riley, then NDSU's offensive line coach whose recruiting territory included the Omaha area.
RJ would be RJ Urzendowski, a receiver from Omaha Creighton Prep who the Bison coaches coveted.
And Easton? Yeah, that'd be Easton Stick. He was the quarterback at Creighton Prep and the player Klieman knew he needed to re-secure if his tenure as Bison coach was going to get off to a successful start.
"That was the first time I went down. Later on, Tim (Polasek, offensive coordinator) and I flew down there. Then Randy (Hedberg, quarterbacks coach) went with me. Three times to see the Sticks and the Urzendowskis," Klieman said. "They had verbally committed to us, but even if kids haven't reopened their recruitment they are being urged to reopen it. We knew Easton was getting a ton of pressure from some other schools and we needed him at NDSU. Everybody's looking for that franchise quarterback. We thought we had that with Easton."
The story had a happy ending for everyone involved. Klieman convinced Stick to remain committed and he signed with NDSU in early February 2014. Stick's five years in Fargo (including his redshirt season) were as successful as any quarterback's in FCS history, with a record number of victories. The Bison won three national championships in the four years Stick played, including a 15-0 senior season.
Franchise quarterback, indeed.
Saturday, Stick was picked in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Klieman, now the coach at Kansas State (at least in part, honestly, because Stick played for him at NDSU), recalled by phone some Stick stories shortly after his former QB was selected.
"You could just see it at the camps Easton attended with us," Klieman said. "The leadership qualities were off the charts. The other kids at the camp just gravitated to him, followed him. You could kind of see that on TV when he was drafted. How many former teammates were there with him? There had to be 10 or more. I mean, how cool is that? So many of the guys he played with wanted to be part of his day. That says something right there."
This question had to be asked of Klieman: When did NDSU become a Quarterback U?
He chuckled, but it's a serious query.
Klieman, a former defensive coordinator at NDSU who helped the Bison maintain their hard-nosed, physical, run-first, defensive style known to grind opponents to dust, witnessed it firsthand. He was in Fargo when Brock Jensen led NDSU to three straight national titles before getting a shot with the Miami Dolphins and playing for a season in the Canadian Football League. He was in Fargo when Carson Wentz took over for Jensen, won two championships and was the second overall pick in the draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. And, of course, he was there for Stick.
The Bison don't get credit for it, but they've been dynamic offensively for years. Just as dynamic, one might argue, as the FCS schools that are labeled as unstoppable offenses. And that starts with the quarterbacks.
It was never surprising to see offensive linemen, defensive linemen or linebackers get their names called during the draft. Those are the types of positions for which NDSU is rightly known.
But now the Bison's last two starting quarterbacks have been drafted. From an FCS school. It's remarkable.
"Obviously the success has helped. You're going to open some eyes and get some attention when you win that many games and national championships," Klieman said. "The pro-style system NDSU runs translates to the NFL game and that's what those NFL general managers and coaches are looking for. And no question the Carson phenomenon helped Easton. It drew some attention.
"Easton being around Carson for a couple of years helped, too, just seeing how he went about things and what the expectations were. It's all the things we've talked about the last few years with Easton -- he played under center, he was in the huddle, he was making the calls. All of that makes a difference because it's not the way a lot of college teams do things today. And we knew that when he was doing all his interviews with teams, he was going to blow people away with his knowledge and understanding of the game. It's not surprising he's getting this opportunity."
Whether the Bison under new head coach Matt Entz can continue the quarterback tradition will be one of the major question marks of the program. Entz has not yet named a starter for 2019, but it appears transfer Zeb Noland and redshirt freshman Trey Lance will battle it out. Whoever ends up starting will have big, historic shoes to fill.
What else would be expected at a Quarterback U like NDSU?
Man, that still seems odd to say.