'I'm ready to go' - Bismarck grad, DSU football alum inks deal with Eagles
Since going second overall in the 2016 NFL draft to the Philadelphia Eagles, Carson Wentz has become a household name in North Dakota. The Bismarck Century graduate and North Dakota State quarterback has put his hometown on the map in the world of professional football.
As of Sunday, Wentz isn't the only Bismarck boy in an Eagles uniform, though.
Jay Liggins, who was a senior at Dickinson State this past fall, signed as an undrafted free agent with Philadelphia on Sunday, April 28.
As the 2019 NFL draft was nearing its end on Saturday, Liggins got a call from the Eagles. Soon after, he heard from the Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers, who offered him a playbook weeks ago. However, he decided against the 49ers, since they wanted him to come to rookie camp without signing on.
"I chose the Eagles because they wanted me to play corner, and the Rams wanted me to play safety," Liggins said. "I'm fine with playing either, but I wanted to stick to something I was more familiar with. On top of that, they offered me a little more than the Rams did, (which) made my decision a little easier."
Liggins was a freshman at Bismarck High when the current Eagles quarterback graduated from Century High, so Wentz wasn't a hero to him as he is to many young North Dakota football players now.
"I wouldn't say I looked up to him. Why would I? He's the rival school's quarterback," Liggins said. "But him making the league and having a great career at NDSU, I would like to follow in his footsteps. The longevity he's had, playing at the level he's played at and the tradition he's left at NDSU, I'd like to follow in that. He's definitely made Bismarck proud and had all eyes on him. I like what he's about and the fact that I get the opportunity is great. Both being Bismarck guys is huge for the city as well."
Liggins was one of 14 reported undrafted free agent signings by the Eagles, including another cornerback out of USC. Liggins said he inked a three-year deal with a signing bonus and a certain amount guaranteed whether he makes the roster or not.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound cornerback drew national attention, including a feature in Sports Illustrated's The MMQB, following an impressive senior season at Dickinson State.
Liggins was named to the NAIA All-American team twice, earning first-team honors in 2018. He ranked third in the NAIA this fall with eight interceptions on the year, including a school-record four INTs in one game as the team defeated Northwestern College (Iowa) on Nov. 17, 2018.
He helped the Blue Hawks go 20-0 at home over four years, making a playoff appearance each time and advancing as far as the quarterfinals in 2018, when they lost an incredibly close 43-40 game to Kansas Wesleyan on the road.
After the season ended, Liggins opted to work toward his football career, cutting his education short. He traveled to Mesquite, Texas, to train with the RAW Power team six days a week, preparing for the NDSU pro day.
Liggins and Dickinson State teammate Cain Boschee traveled to Fargo together. The pair ran drills at the Dacotah Field Bubble on March 28, with 22 scouts from the NFL and CFL watching on, right across the street from where Wentz dazzled scouts just three years earlier.
"He's got a lot of work out ahead of him," Dickinson State head coach Pete Stanton said. "He'll have a lot of stuff that he'll have to get through and he understands that part of it. It's also exciting on the other hand to sign a contract. Not everybody does that. There's a lot of really good college football players out there at every level that get an invite to go to a rookie camp or a mini camp but don't actually sign a contract. That was a good first step for him."
The next step is rookie camp, which starts May 10, then organized team practice activity, or OTA offseason workouts in late May through early June, with mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 11-13. All the while, the Eagles staff will be making cuts en route to a 90-man preseason roster, which come regular season is trimmed to 53 players.
"I'm prepared. I'm ready to go," Liggins said. "I can only control what I can control and the fact that I've been put in this situation, to be in this kind of spotlight, I feel like they like what they saw. I feel like I've gotten better even since (then)."
For the next week or so, Liggins will continue working out in Cincinnati, where he's been training with the Ignition Athletic Performance Group since April.
Through all the travel, Liggins said the hardest part has been being on the road so much, spending just a week in Dickinson since January. He said his family, which is spread between North Dakota, Los Angeles, and Colorado, have been supportive the whole way.
"They're excited. They always have faith in me, so they're not that surprised," Liggins said. "But they're all fired up and excited about it all. Definitely all new Philly fans."
Liggins is the second player from Dickinson State to have such a close crack at the NFL. After his senior season in 1992, Beach native and NAIA Hall of Fame member Rory Farstveet tried out for the New England Patriots, but didn't make the cut. Still, he and Liggins prove that it doesn't take an NCAA program to get to the NFL.
"Always, I've been told I should transfer, go to a bigger school if I really want to make this dream happen and here I am with an opportunity to really make it happen," Liggins said. "What always helped me, I always told myself, 'I'm as good as I think as I am, and the coaches are as good as they say they are, so there's no reason I shouldn't be at the level I feel I can play at.' ... I believe anything is possible as long as you have that mindset."