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No Longer Under The Radar
By Becky York
On April 28, 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Carson Wentz as the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. In choosing their quarterback as a first-round pick for the first time since 1999’s draft of Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia placed a lot of weight on the shoulders of this rookie from North Dakota State.
Wentz wasn’t necessarily ever known as “Most Likely to Succeed.” Coming in at 5’8” and 125 lbs as a freshman at Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, Carson was by no means a star player on his small town’s football team, or anyone’s idea of a shoo-in for the NFL. Though he always knew he was meant to be a quarterback, he played receiver and linebacker until his junior year, during which he injured himself, slowing his progression to the position for which he aimed. It wasn’t until his senior year, having grown to 6’5” and 200 lbs, that he became the starting varsity quarterback.
“I came out of nowhere my senior year,” Wentz reflects. “That’s why I was passed over by some of the larger schools and ended up at North Dakota State.”
While growing into the role he always knew would be his, Wentz also began to grow in his faith in Jesus Christ.
“Later in my senior year, my grandma gave me a devotional book,” Wentz recalls, “which I started reading right before I left for college. That summer, instead of my parents encouraging me to go with them to church, I was the one pulling everyone out of the house on Sunday morning to go.”
Later that summer, he found himself at North Dakota State, just beginning his first fall training with the team when a teammate of his asked him a question that ended up changing his life.
“One day while we were stretching, the third-string quarterback, Dante Perez, asked me a question out of nowhere,” Wentz reveals. “He said, ‘Hey, have you ever read the Bible?’ This totally caught me off guard. ‘I’ve tried but I haven’t made it very far,’ I replied. I had just begun searching to grow in my faith; God knew that I needed to hear that question. The next thing I knew, Dante and I were meeting every week for the rest of the semester, going through the Gospels.”
Catching the contagious faith that he found in his new teammate, Wentz continued to grow after Perez graduated and their weekly study came to a natural end.
“When Dante left, he made sure that I had someone else to disciple me. After having these guys pour into me, I started pouring into younger guys as well,” he shares enthusiastically. “I had earned the respect of others through my position on the team, and I felt called to really open up to guys and let them open up to me. I wanted them to know that I cared for them—that I was more than just their quarterback. Discipling others is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Sitting in the dining hall having conversations about faith with Christians and non-Christians alike was amazing.”
His leadership as a quarterback on the team took time to develop as well. Red-shirting at the beginning of his college career and then playing as a back-up for the first two years, Wentz fought earnestly for the starting position.
“I remember going home many Saturday nights knowing I did everything I could to help our starter,” Wentz reminisces. “I would leave game day after the usual win feeling excited for the team, but at the same time crushed. I couldn’t help but think, ‘There goes another opportunity for me.’ I learned a lot about patience that season. I really had to place my trust in God’s plan and His timing.”
Wentz knew he had what it took to play in the NFL and worked hard to convince others of that fact. After two years of taking a back seat to the starter, Brock Jensen, Wentz moved into the starting quarterback position in his junior year.
“I knew I could play, and so did my teammates,” Wentz expresses with conviction. “I’d been blessed with the talent, but I hadn’t yet had the chance to really play. When I finally got that chance, I ran with it.”
During his first year as the starter, Wentz led the Bison to a win in the national championship. And as his senior rolled around, many were talking about the possibility of his NFL eligibility.
Though the first game of his senior season resulted in an unexpected loss for the Bison, the next four were wins.
“I was playing really good football and trying not to let the outside stresses of NFL drafts, scouts, or agents get to me,” he says.
Continuing to impress on the field, Wentz began hearing more about the interest of scouts. Soon after the season started, his father was fielding calls from different agents who predicted that he was going to be drafted high. But suddenly his future became uncertain when he hurt his wrist in game six.
Playing a team that everyone was sure the Bison would defeat, Wentz and his teammates gave up an unexpected loss.
“Everyone was crushed,” he remembers vividly.
With his wrist still hurting the next day, he was brought in for X-rays. Later, his coach called with the devastating news, confirming his worst fear.
“I’d broken my throwing wrist,” he says, recalling the initial despair. “I didn’t know if I would be able to throw again. And even I could, I wondered ‘Did I do enough this season to get drafted?’ I felt sorry for myself for about five minutes and then I let go of the anger and frustration and just started praying. By no means was this easy—there was a chance that my football career was over—but I knew that God had a plan for even this. I need to lean into God and trust His plan.”
Wentz continued to help the backup quarterback, Easton Stick, finish the season strong, and the team made it to the national championship game again. With his wrist almost completely healed, Wentz risked further injury to take the field for one last game with the Bison, leading them to a 37-10 win, earning himself the title of MVP of the game.
“There’s no way I was going to let that opportunity pass me by,” he proclaimed. “That could have been the last game of my career—and it would have been a storybook ending.”
But it wasn’t the end. In fact it was only the beginning. Wentz flew out to Southern California for draft preparation, played in the Senior Bowl and the Combine, and trained alongside other hopeful grads. Throughout , he continued to prove himself a leader among the competition.
“It was really cool to be around all the other prospects for the draft,” he remembers. “I met guys from California, Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and North Dakota—guys from all different backgrounds and families who were all there with the same objective. We came from being the kings of our college campuses, but here it didn’t matter where you came from before—if you could play you could play.”
“It didn’t matter where you came from before—if you could play you could play.”
Even though he was coming from a small school, Wentz played confidently, knowing he had what it takes. As the draft drew closer, many agents were telling him that he had a good chance of being the first or second overall pick. But the unknowns of his future were hard for Wentz, who likes to plan ahead.
“Every day was a different emotion,” he said. “For those couple months, I knew I could literally be called anywhere and that was a really hard concept for me. How many other college grads enter a field where they do not get to pick where they work, the company just tells them where they are going and they pick up and leave? But at the same time, this really allowed me to lean on God, trusting that He was going to put me where He wanted me. Knowing that truth, I realized I had nothing to lose!”
Another prospect, Jared Goff, trained alongside Wentz, fighting for a top spot in the draft.
“Jared Goff and I have the same agent, so we were training together most of the time and got to know each other really well,” he elaborates. “Though we have completely different backgrounds and personalities, we got along well and still text back and forth.”
As the two pushed each other to play their best, they soon realized that as the number one and two draft picks, they would be compared to each other for the rest of their careers.
Confident that he would be a high pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Wentz was present for the ceremony along with his parents, brother, grandma, girlfriend, agents, and friends, eagerly waiting for his name to be called.
“My agents were in the know so I was confident that I would be gone after two picks,” he admitted. “I was 95% sure that I was going to the Eagles but I thought there was a chance the Rams would take me.”
And sure enough, after Goff’s name was called by the Rams, Wentz heard announced. He was now an official part of the Philadelphia Eagles team.
“Hearing my name called was pretty surreal,” Wentz says through a huge smile. “I’ll never forget hearing the song I chose come on—Fly Over States by Jason Aldean. Suddenly everything that I had worked for came together. I didn’t cry—I was overcome with many different emotions—and I still get chills every time I hear that song. It was just perfect the way everything played out.”
“But once I walked off stage I stepped back into reality. It was time to do media row.”
The next day Wentz was whisked away from his emotional mountaintop experience to face a gauntlet of media meetings, photo shoots, and press conferences in Philadelphia. Then it was back to North Dakota to train for two weeks before he met his new teammates for the Eagles’ rookie mini-camp.
As the rookie camp ended and the Eagles’ team practices approached, there was one fear that still nagged at Wentz.
“I had a great thing going for me at North Dakota State,” he explains. “I had an awesome Bible study, small group, and community. I didn’t know what it would look like on the Eagles, would I fit in? Would there be other Christians on my team? What would the locker room be like? Now, a year later, I look back and realize that even my best expectations were blown out of the water—I couldn’t ask for a better situation. The Christian community that I’ve found on the Eagles has been incredible.”
Finishing year one of his four-year contract with the Eagles, Wentz is both hopeful and expectant for what awaits him in the next stages of his career.
“It’s been an unbelievable year,” Wentz reminisces. “I don’t know what next season will look like but to have the year that I did with the team that I’m on to break into the league. . . I couldn’t ask for anything more.”