NDSU QB Carson Wentz copes with watching final regular season game from sidelines
FARGO -- The tone of his voice was a little a quieter, a little more deliberate. It's not the way Carson Wentz wanted his last regular-season football game to go, much less his senior season.
FARGO - The tone of his voice was a little a quieter, a little more deliberate. It’s not the way Carson Wentz wanted his last regular-season football game to go, much less his senior season.
But that’s the card he was dealt four weeks ago when an innocent-looking shove after releasing a pass turned into a broken wrist. The initial diagnosis was he would be sidelined six to eight weeks and it appears that timeline is still in play.
“It’s progressing well. It’s kind of a week-by-week thing now,” Wentz said. “It’s frustrating, but that’s what I have to deal with.”
The injury turned one of the most promising two-year stints as a starting quarterback in NDSU history into an abbreviated one, at least for now. Certainly, it hasn’t been easy being a student-assistant coach of sorts doing all the behind-the-scenes work instead of on the field in prime time.
“I think it’s been a struggle for Carson,” said Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. “He’s such a competitor that he wants to play and that’s a difficult thing about it for him.”
Wentz led the Bison to a fourth straight FCS national title last year with a season that included 3,111 yards passing, 25 touchdown passes, two game-winning drives in the playoffs including the final 98 seconds in the championship game in a drive that will never be forgotten in the NDSU history books.
His senior season had a similar look to it. Wentz had 16 touchdown passes in six games against just two interceptions with the signature win a 18-yard touchdown pass to Darius Shepherd with 35 seconds remaining to beat Northern Iowa 31-28. He was on pace to beat Brock Jensen’s single-season record for passing touchdowns of 35. His passing yardage last year already was an NDSU record.
On the flipside, NDSU’s two losses to date can be partly attributed to two Wentz injuries. He sprained his ankle in the second half at Montana, an ailment that affected the Bison offense because Wentz couldn’t run the ball. He played most of the game in the upset loss to South Dakota with the wrist that wasn’t diagnosed as broken until over 24 hours later.
Backup Easton Stick took over and the Bison rattled off four straight wins to get back into the higher seed picture in the FCS playoffs. At 8-2, a win against Missouri State today at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome puts NDSU in the conversation for a top two seed.
Wentz has spent a lot of time working with Stick on game planning during the week and sideline advice during a game.
“He’s on the headset and between series’ we’re talking all the time,” Hedberg said. “He watches video during the course of the week and he has an idea on what he would do.”
So much to the point that Hedberg said, “I think Carson could put a good game plan together on any opponent we face.”
Hedberg said the offense was progressing to the point of letting Wentz, a fifth-year senior, have the leeway to call more plays at the line of scrimmage. He’s 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds with a right arm that has gotten the attention of professional scouts.
Earlier this week, Wentz accepted an invitation to play in the annual Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 30.
“I got the letter, and that was a cool thing, but that’s down the road,” he said.
In the meantime, every day is spent toward throwing another pass in a Bison uniform. He and Hedberg will often go on the field before the rest of the team and do footwork drills. Head strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer puts him through running drills four days a week. Hedberg said he would be in shape right now to play, but that obviously depends on the wrist.
Wentz is able to do some rehabilitation exercises with putty. He goes to Sanford Health physical therapy once a week. He’s working harder on his lower body through strength training and running.
“I’m trying to make the most of it and get better,” he said. “I’m plugging away in the film room. I do feel like I’ve gotten better and I’m going to try and keep getting better in the time I have.”
Today is Senior Day for the 14 Bison seniors, who will be introduced individually after the tunnel walk out of the locker room.
“It’s hard not to see him out there,” said senior punter Ben LeCompte. “I know he’ll be there in spirit and I know he’s doing everything possible to help us get a win even though he can’t put on the shoulderpads.”
LeCompte compares Wentz’s situation to linebacker Grant Olson in 2013 and senior linebacker Travis Beck last year. Both missed most of the latter part of their senior seasons because of injury.
“Nobody pouted, nobody had a pitty party and nobody wanted anybody to feel bad for them,” he said. “They all showed the leadership that this program is about.”
This week, all the seniors had a chance to speak to the team after each day of practice. Wentz was scheduled to do his on Friday. Earlier in the week, he wasn’t sure what he was going to talk about, but the odds of it being easy were not good.
“I just know there are a lot of emotions for me personally and for a lot of the seniors,” he said. “It can be an emotional week, especially for me not being out there.”