Carson Wentz has a chance to be NFL’s top pick, stoking North Dakota’s pride – Los Angeles Times

6 months ago Comments Off on Carson Wentz has a chance to be NFL’s top pick, stoking North Dakota’s pride – Los Angeles Times

Beth Campbell sits behind a desk in the North Dakota Heritage Center, greeting visitors and cheerfully offering tidbits on state history.

Asked if she knows about Carson Wentz, she laughs.

“If you live in North Dakota and you haven’t heard of Carson Wentz,” she says, “you’re living under a rock.”

See the most-read stories in Sports this hour>>

Across a sprawling lawn in the state Capitol building, tour guide Darlene Neas takes it a few steps further.

“Everyone knows who Carson Wentz is,” she says, “unless you’re in a grave.”

One day, Wentz might have his own exhibit in the state museum, or join the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame luminaries with painted portraits in the first-floor hallway of the Capitol.

The rangy, red-headed quarterback is set to make history.

The Rams, with the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NFL draft, will choose between North Dakota State’s Wentz and California’s Jared Goff. No football player from a North Dakota college has been selected in the first round of the draft, never mind the first pick.

So Wentz-mania has raged here for months.

At the Stadium Lodge bar and grill, just down the hill from where Wentz played for Century High, patrons buzz about his pro prospects.

“Everybody is excited about it and everybody’s rooting for the guy,” bartender Justin Mock says. “It’s certainly the topic of most conversations in here.”

That’s the case across the room where Russ Patchen and Jerry Olson, both 85, are sharing a few beers. The two widowers socialize regularly and still hunt together every Tuesday in the fall.

Wentz’s NFL future is discussed “all over town,” Patchen says.

“All over the state,” Olson adds.

Patchen said he attended Rams games at the Coliseum in the 1950s when he was in the military. Admission, he said, was 79 cents if he wore his uniform. He’d like to see Wentz playing for the Rams.

“The athletic ability and field presence,” Patchen said, shaking his head. “He’s the whole package.”

Olson is not as certain, cautioning that Wentz’s experience playing for a smaller school might cause some to question him.

There is no doubt about one thing: Wentz won’t be alone in Chicago for the draft this week.

In spirit, it seems, the entire state of 750,000 will be there right along with him.


National championship trophies fill the colorful lobby of the North Dakota State football offices in the Fargodome, located about 200 miles east of Bismarck.

The Bison have won 13 national titles, including the last five Football Championship Subdivision championships.

Carson Wentz greets a visitor, opens the door and strides easily across a marble floor engraved with the years of the championships.

Tugging at the sleeves of his red crew-neck shirt, he walks into an empty conference room, settles his 6-foot 5-inch frame into a swivel chair and exhales.

Wentz, 23, has been on the go since he returned from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight games and led the Bison to a title-game victory over Jacksonville State.

The postseason tour included impressive showings at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and his pro day workout in the Fargodome, exhibitions that skyrocketed his draft stock.

“Aside from the fact that it seems like the longest job interview ever, it’s been fun,” Wentz says, laughing.

Last week, a few days after the Rams traded up from No. 15 to No. 1 in the draft, Wentz was summoned to Oxnard for visits with Rams officials.

Goff followed a day later.

The two quarterbacks share the same agents and have worked out together in Irvine.

Wentz or Goff will be chosen by the Rams. The Philadelphia Eagles last week traded up for the No. 2 pick and they are expected to choose the other.

“He’s a great kid and he’s a good quarterback,” Wentz says of Goff. “It’s exciting knowing we’re going to play each other for a long time as competitors.”

Is it important to be the first pick?

“As a competitor, a little bit,” Wentz says. “At the end of the day, you just want to go to a team that believes in you … and hopefully wants to build a franchise around you.”

For the time being, Wentz is happy to be back in North Dakota, where he enjoys hunting and hanging out with friends.

But he says he is getting antsy “waiting in limbo” for the next phase of his career to begin.

“I’m kind of sick and tired of not having a playbook,” he says. “I want to learn. I’m ready to go.”


On the drive along Interstate 94 from Bismarck to Fargo, motorists pass stark, eye-catching billboards that simply read “Be Nice” and “Be Polite.”

Take an interchange toward the North Dakota State campus and another billboard salutes Fargo native Roger Maris, the New York Yankees slugger whose record 61 home runs in 1961 was eclipsed by Mark McGwire in 1998.

“FARGO’S ROGER MARIS Legitimate HOME RUN KING,” the billboard reads.

Zach Wentz, 26, says people in Bismarck, Fargo and beyond embrace his younger brother because of his work ethic, determination and humble attitude that embodies the North Dakotan ideal.

“The whole state of North Dakota, when you look at the kid, says, ‘He’s real. He’s genuine. He’s a North Dakota person and he values everything that we as North Dakotans think is important,'” says Zach, who played baseball at North Dakota State and now coaches at Bismarck Legacy High.

Darin Erstad grew up in Jamestown, N.D., played baseball and football at Nebraska and was drafted No. 1 overall by the Angels in 1995. He enjoyed a 14-year major league career and is now the baseball coach at Nebraska.

But he keeps tabs on Wentz and is not surprised by the public support in his home state.

“It is one big family up there,” Erstad says. “That’s what we do.”


Carson Wentz has a chance to be NFL’s top pick, stoking North Dakota’s pride – Los Angeles Times