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KOLPACK: Wentz is already the biggest thing to hit Bison athletics

FARGO --Before ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski went on the air last Thursday, March 24, at North Dakota State's annual football Pro Day, he joked with a few fans seated in the first couple of rows about his last visit to Fargo. It was in 1972 as the qu...

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North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz runs through passing drills as NFL scouts and coaches observe during Pro Day on Thursday at the Fargodome. (FNS Photo by Dave Wallis)

FARGO -Before ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski went on the air last Thursday, March 24, at North Dakota State’s annual football Pro Day, he joked with a few fans seated in the first couple of rows about his last visit to Fargo. It was in 1972 as the quarterback for Youngstown State.
He said his Penguins got their rear ends kicked, although he was being facetious since the score was 16-10, a presumably physical Bison victory at old Dacotah Field.
Things have changed for all involved. Jaws went on to a great NFL career and has been a media staple in his 26 years of broadcasting. Dacotah Field gave way to the Fargodome in 1993, and the Bison football program ditched Division II in 2004 in favor of some unknown destination called Division I athletics.
So how did that decision turn out?
Life has changed so much with the university athletic department that the debate this week is of national consequence: Is Wentz’s ascension as one of the top available quarterbacks for April’s NFL draft the biggest thing to hit Bison athletics?
There are five nominees:

  • The 2009 Bison men’s basketball team that reached the NCAA tournament in its first year of eligibility.
  • The 2014 Bison men’s basketball team that upset Oklahoma in its first game in the NCAA tournament.
  • The Bison football team that has won five straight FCS national titles.
  • ESPN’s “College GameDay” that made two straight appearances in Fargo in 2013 and 2014.
  • Carson Wentz.

After careful consideration, I’m going with the last one. It is just so rare. He is just so rare. The thought of another player from North Dakota going as high as the second round like Phil Hansen did in the 1991 draft was beginning to look like a one-in-50-years type of thing. Assuming that Wentz, from Bismarck, goes in the first round, and assuming he is among the first 10 to 15 selections, well, that blows Phil out of the water.
And what if he’s the second guy taken overall? That blows the other four nominees out of the water. Longtime Fargo-Moorhead residents will tell you this Wentz train seems almost too bizarre to be true.
It’s the size of the stage. He is the biggest thing to hit Fargo since the movie “Fargo” and it may not be long before the Coen brothers and their Oscar take second fiddle. The best source for that: Our old Forum comrade and author Chuck Klosterman.
“Right now the movie is still bigger,” Klosterman said. “It’s still the second-most popular thing random people ask me about North Dakota after the weather. But if Wentz goes No. 2 in the draft, he will immediately be as big a deal as the NDSU football program itself, and if his eventual career is comparable to say Joe Flacco, he’d leapfrog the film.”
Wentz’s stock and Bison football have been virtually daily NFL talking points, and having two major sports networks going live on his Pro Day at Gate City Bank Field only reinforces that. The attention has been so constant that the public relations arm of Wentz’s agency hasn’t had to do much in the line of seeking attention.
The attention has come to them.
The 2009 hoops story was charming in that it was NDSU’s first year of Division I postseason eligibility. The 2014 upset was a one-day major national story. The five straight titles is unprecedented in college football history and is a mighty feat to say the least, but FCS football does not capture major national headlines.
“College GameDay” is cool and, again, charming to be in an FCS city two straight years. But Wentz? This is the NFL, the country’s most popular sport and an attention machine. Wentz is dang near the top of that story and will be up until the first round of the draft on April 28. His normal-guy, Midwest humbleness and rural state background has struck a vein with NFL fans.
I’ve been on a few sports talk shows from around the country in the last couple of months, and they all are still muddled with this question: Where did Carson Wentz come from?
He came from Bismarck, redshirted, sat behind the winningest quarterback in FCS history in Brock Jensen for two years, won two FCS titles himself and has since become the greatest thing that happened to NDSU in the school’s athletic history.
And the draft is still over a month away.
If things go as predicted, he could be the biggest thing since Teddy Roosevelt.
“I would also note that his pro day is already a bigger deal than the community of Medora,” Klosterman said, “but still slightly less significant than the legacy of Lawrence Welk.”

Related Topics: CARSON WENTZ
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